Review of Muhammad Najem, War Reporter: How One Boy Put the Spotlight on Syria

Muhammad Najem, War Reporter: How One Boy Put the Spotlight on SyriaMuhammad Najem, War Reporter: How One Boy Put the Spotlight on Syria
by Muhammad Najem and Nora Neus; illus. by Julie Robine; color by Shin-Yeon Moon
Intermediate    Little, Brown    320 pp.    g
9/22    978-0-7595-5689-8    $24.99
Paper ed.  978-0-7595-5690-4    $12.99
e-book ed.  978-0-7595-5691-1    $9.99

Muhammad Najem was just eight years old when civil war began in his home country of Syria. Early in this excellent graphic memoir, Muhammad’s biggest gripe is being yanked away from an unfinished video game as his family flees their home in Eastern Ghouta ahead of Syrian ruler Bashar al-Assad’s troops. But when Muhammad’s father is killed in an air strike a few years later, the brutal realities of war hit home. Working through his grief and fear, he grows more interested in his brother Firas’s photojournalistic work; at age fifteen he begins filming his own segments, courageously using his real name and focusing on the Assad regime’s atrocities. Video by video, Najem gains fame and followers (due partially to coauthor Neus, a CNN producer); meanwhile, to escape the dangers of war, most of the family leaves Syria for Istanbul, Turkey. Najem and Neus ground this gripping narrative, told with great immediacy, in the teen’s close-knit family, with sibling ribbing aplenty (providing much-needed occasional levity). Despite the squabbles, everyone obviously worries for the teen’s safety (in one memorable exchange, Firas tells his brother, “You’re not helping anybody if you’re dead!” in response to Muhammad’s wish to move back to Syria to continue reporting). An afterword and a note from Neus add context to Najem’s story; a recipe for yebrak (stuffed grape leaves, one of Muhammad’s favorite dishes) and family photos are also appended.

From the November/December 2022 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Sam Bloom

Sam Bloom is a programming librarian at the Covington Branch of the Kenton County Public Library in northern Kentucky.

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