Review of The Unwanted: Stories of the Syrian Refugees

The Unwanted: Stories of the Syrian Refugees
by Don Brown; illus. by the author
Middle School, High School    Houghton    105 pp.
9/18    978-1-328-81015-1    $18.99
e-book ed.  978-1-328-56104-6    $13.99

There are over five million Syrian refugees around the world today, and each one has a unique story. Brown returns to the comics format of Drowned City (rev. 9/15) and The Great American Dust Bowl (rev. 11/13) to create a powerful history of the Syrian civil war, punctuated with the stories of many individual refugees. With the incorporation of the refugees’ own words, this multiplicity of experiences accumulates and compounds to great emotional effect. Some of the refugees (all real people) have success stories to tell: a young girl and her family find refuge in Canada, where she thrives, “takes up skating, and enjoys Halloween.” Many other stories are tragic. A man loses his family when their boat capsizes; other Syrian refugees face hostility in Europe (“REFUGEES NOT WELCOME!”) or discrimination in neighboring, overwhelmed Lebanon. Near the end, one mother asserts, “The future is not for us. The future is for our children.” Brown provides concrete comparisons that make the problem more tangible and relatable (he compares the population of Syria to that of Florida; he shows how the influx of refugees from Syria to Lebanon is, proportionately, as if the entire population of Mexico moved to the United States). As in the previous works, illustrations have a sketchbook-like quality and feature faces drawn with minimal features that are nonetheless expressive, lending the subjects a sort of universality. The varied panels perfectly control the pacing, thoughtfully guiding readers through difficult subject matter. Appended material includes Brown’s impressions from his visits to refugee camps in Greece, an extensive bibliography, and source notes for all quotations. The wrenching stories and illustrations would complement a historical inquiry of the conflict, or provide much-needed humanity to a depersonalized and politicized topic.

From the September/October 2018 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.
Julie Hakim Azzam
Julie Hakim Azzam
Julie Hakim Azzam teaches in the English department at the University of Pittsburgh. While her academic specialization is on literature from Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia, she has a passion for children’s literature and has been interviewing children’s authors for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette for many years.

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