The refugee experience is on a lot of teens minds these days. Many teens want to better understand the hardships that refugees face, and what leads to someone needing to flee their home. Here is a list of books for teens that explore a variety of conflicts, and the harrowing journeys that many have faced in hopes of a safer and more stable life.
Young Adult Fiction about the Refugee Experience
City of Saints & Thieves by Natalie C. Anderson
When she was a young child, Tina fled with her mother to Sangui City, Kenya from Congo. Now in her teens, five years after her mother’s murder, Tina is determined to get revenge on her mother’s murderer. With her friend Boyboy, and her former best friend, Michael, who is also son of the man she believes is her mother’s murderer, the three sneak back into Congo looking for answers around her mother’s death only to find so much more.
Based on true events, this World War II novel set in East Prussia during the winter of 1945 follows the plight of refugees as Germany tries to evacuate soldiers and civilians. Four teens, from different backgrounds, and each with a dark secret, connect as they vie for passage on the ship, the Willhelm Gustloff, being used to evacuate the refugees.
The Only Road by Alexandra Diaz
After the local gang kills his beloved cousin, Jaime and his cousin Ángela are targeted as the next recruits. Their families quickly put together the funds to send them north to try to make a crossing to the United States where Jaime’s older brother is living. The two endure multiple hardships as they attempt to make it north.
I Lived on Butterfly Hill by Marjorie Agosín
Based on true events in Chile during the 1970s, Celeste is sent to America after Chile, is taken over by a militaristic, sadistic government. There she worries over her parents who have disappeared into hiding, and tries to adapt to her new life while still worrying about and missing her old.
The Good Braider by Terry Farish (2014 Outstanding Books for the College Bound and Lifelong Learners)
This free-verse novel follows Viola a Sudanese refugee’s journey from her home in ravaged Sudan to Cairo and finally to the Sudanese community in Maine. She is forever haunted by harrowing memories of she’s lost as she tries to build a new life.
Now is the Time for Running by Michael Williams (2012 Best Fiction for Young Adults)
After Deo’s Zimbabwe village is ravaged by soldiers, he must flee with his older brother, Innocent, who is mentally disabled. With no shoes and very little money, the two set out on a journey where they face constant prejudice against refugees and a lion while crossing through a nature preserve, they end up in the outskirts of Johannesburg, South Africa where they face more brutal xenophobia. Deo is then invited to join the soccer team that will represent South Africa in the Street Soccer World Cup.
A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park
Based on a true story about Sudanese civil war, follows both young Salva, who becomes separated from his family after his village is attacked in 1985. Salva’s faces a harrowing journey walking across the southern region of Sudan to Kenya, as he and other refugees face hunger, attacks by soldiers, lions, and violent marauders. Chapters are prefaced by young Nya, who collects water for her Sudanese village in 2008.
Set in the early 1990s in the war-torn Republic of Georgia after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Seven-year-old Koumaïl and his guardian, Gloria, flee violent unrest and begin a five-year arduous journey across the Caucasus toward France. In moments of despair, storytelling revive their passion for survival as they weather hardships and welcome unforgettable encounters with other refugees searching for a better life.
The Day of the Pelican by Katherine Paterson
Set during the war in Kosovo during the 1990s this follows Meli, an Albanian Muslim girl, and her family as they flee the violence escalating in their small town. They embark on a terrible two year journey from their uncle’s farm to a crowded refugee camp where they denied permission to cross the border until they are finally sponsored church bringing them to the U.S.
The Arrival by Shaun Tan
The sense of displacement and awe are explored of what it feels like to be an immigrant in a new world in this wordless graphic novel.
The Other Side of Truth by Beverley Naidoo
After their mother is shot and killed by assassins’ bullets meant for their outspoken journalist father, Sade Solaja and younger brother, Femi, are hastily smuggled out of Nigeria and taken to London and abandoned after their uncle fails to meet them at the airport. Sade and Femi must try and find their own way around a confusing and unknown city.
Blue Gold by Elizabeth Stewart
Told through three different points of view, this explores the human costs of technology with coltan, or rather “blue gold,” a rare mineral used in making cell phones and computers. One of these voices is Sylvie is a Congolese refugee living in Tanzania.
Young Adult Nonfiction on The Refugee Experience
This Land is Our Land by Linda Barrett Osborne (2017 Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults Finalist)
Explores the evolution and history of governmental policy around immigration and how it is often driven by popular responses to feelings on race and ethnicity, economic conditions, and fear of foreign political concerns.
An Olympic Dream: The Story of Samia Yusuf Omar by Reinhard Kleist
After Samia Yusuf Omar competed in running at the 2008 Beijing Olympics representing Somalia, she was determined to compete again at the 2012 London games. When the Islamist militia Al-Shabaab harassed and threatened to kill her, she fled through Sudan and into Libya to find a safer place to train only to meet a fateful end attempting to reach Europe.
Children of War: Voices of Iraqi Refugees by Deborah Ellis
Through interviews with displaced Iraqi kids and teens between the ages 8 and 19 they discuss how the Iraq war has affected their lives.
Danielle Jones, currently reading See You in the Cosmos by Jack Cheng
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