Review of When Stars Are Scattered

When Stars Are Scattered
by Victoria Jamieson and Omar Mohamed; illus. by Victoria Jamieson; color by Iman Geddy
Intermediate, Middle School    Dial    264 pp.    g
4/20    978-0-525-55391-5    $20.99
Paper ed.  978-0-525-55390-8    $17.99

This poignant graphic novel about growing up in a Kenyan refugee camp is based on co-author Mohamed’s experiences as an orphaned Somali refugee. The narrative focuses primarily on Omar’s fierce protection of Hassan, his younger brother who has limited verbal communication and who suffers occasional seizures. When the highly intelligent and compassionate Omar is encouraged by supportive adults to pursue his education, he does so reluctantly (“I felt torn in half. Should I go to school? Or should I stay with my family?”). Years of studying, turmoil over resettlement, and near-debilitating ennui follow. Omar and Hassan eventually find themselves as teenagers poised for resettlement to America, but not without the cost of abandoning the relationships they’ve developed at the camp. The brothers’ difficult lives at the refugee camp are complexly conveyed through engaging past/present narration, artful repetition, and Jamieson’s (Roller Girl, rev. 3/15) confident cartooning. Multi-paneled layouts are regularly layered over singular background spreads, creating visual depth, while text-rich captions and substantial dialogue drive the narrative. Tragedy is certainly present throughout the story, yet Mohamed and Jamieson’s focus on deep familial love and education works to subvert many refugee stereotypes. Back matter includes photographs, an illuminating afterword, and two authors’ notes (in Jamieson’s, she shares her connection to Mohamed, along with her process for adapting his story into a graphic novel). Full-color art not seen.

From the March/April 2020 Horn Book Magazine.

Patrick Gall
Patrick Gall works as a librarian for children in preschool through eighth grade at the Catherine Cook School in Chicago.

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