Review of Refugee

by Alan Gratz
Intermediate, Middle School    Scholastic    343 pp.
7/17    978-0-545-88083-1    $16.99
e-book ed.  978-0-545-88087-9    $10.99

Gratz’s stirring novel humanizes the plight of refugees worldwide. Told in alternating chapters, the book follows fictional child refugees from three different eras whose stories ultimately, and surprisingly, converge. In 1939 Josef and his family, who are Jewish, hope to escape Nazi Germany on the notorious MS St. Louis bound for Cuba. Fifty-plus years later, Isabel’s family and their neighbors sail a homemade boat toward Miami away from riots and starvation in Havana. And in 2015 Mahmoud and his family flee war-torn Aleppo by foot, car, and raft to build a new life in Germany. Gratz doesn’t downplay the trials that refugees endure, as discrimination, betrayal, death, and the elements themselves bar the way. The narrative keeps readers on edge throughout these perilous, wrenching journeys but allows for suitably poetic turns during quieter moments of reflection: “This trip, this odyssey, was pulling his family apart, stripping them away like leaves from the trees in the fall.” An appended author’s note details the true circumstances that inspired Gratz’s story and includes organizations that help refugees today, reinforcing the novel’s timely reminder of humanity’s common ground and the need for kindness and charitable actions toward displaced persons.

From the November/December 2017 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.
Russell Perry
Russell Perry is editorial assistant of The Horn Book Guide.

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