Immigrants and refugees are such a timely topic, that many new books are being written to inform the public of the realities those seeking sanctuary endure. The following selections put a face to the issues…faces that cannot be denied. Whether historical fiction or non-fiction memoirs, these Quick Picks for Reluctant Readers nominees help raise awareness for teens.
Refugee by Alan Gratz
July 25, 2017
Three countries in strife…three different periods in time…three families seeking one universal goal: FREEDOM. Josef, Isabel, and Mahmoud offer realistic, fictionalized accounts of attempts to find refuge from 1939 Nazi Germany, Castro’s 1994 Cuba, and war-torn Syria in 2015. Methods of escape include a ship, raft, trains, taxi, and tedious, wearisome treks by foot. With obstacles like Nazis, sharks, police, the coast guard, fences, and thieves along the way, realization of both freedom and safety are not guaranteed.
The cover portrays a black and white, very lifelike image of a boy in a boat facing a storm, with the title and boat in bold red, clearly foreshadowing the story and igniting curiosity. The action is fast-paced and intensifies during the heartwrenching journeys of the three families. Although three separate tales, Josef, Isabel, and Mahmoud face similar struggles across different lands and eras. Told from three alternating points of view, each protagonist has authentically courageous, yet vulnerable qualities that will have readers sympathizing with their plight and supporting their quest for deliverance for their families. Each compelling chapter seems to end with a mini-cliffhanger, just as the narrator changes. This suspenseful technique naturally makes the reader keep going to find out what happens next with each of the three refugees. The intricately plotted storyline eventually comes full circle, as connections are made amongst the three families.
Teens will gravitate towards the obviously timely topic, and the intensifying, suspenseful, short chapters are an easy sell to reluctant readers. Hand this one to readers who may not yet be ready for Echo by Pam Munoz-Ryan or Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys, as the readability skews a bit younger. However, there is definitely broad appeal for older teens and adults, too. Fans of recent movies such as The Zookeeper’s Wife or Dunkirk are also good candidates as readers. Other readalikes include the book in verse Enchanted Air by Margarita Engle, and graphic novel Rolling Blackouts: Dispatches from Turkey, Syria, and Iraq by Sarah Glidden.
— Lisa Krok
How Dare the Sun Rise: Memoirs of a War Child by Sandra Uwiringiyimana with Abigail Pesta
Katherine Tegen Books
May 16, 2017
Near the border of the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Gatumba Massacre took the lives of 166 people in 2004. Author Sandra Uwiringiyimana was just ten years old when a gun was held to her head and shots were fired upon her mother and little sister. She barely escaped and reunited with her surviving family members, as they struggled with their grief and started over with no home and no money. A refugee program through the United Nations eventually transported their family to New York, where new challenges of a cultural divide gave Sandra even more determination to not just survive, but thrive.
The terrorizing, gut-wrenching first chapter immediately captivates readers. Sandra’s candid description of the massacre and aftermath is truly sobering, and gives a strong sense of place to those who have never stepped foot anywhere near the Congolese border. Sandra portrays the relationships within her family and any flaws with grace. She also takes emotionally intense situations and delivers them in an impassioned style, while still managing to infuse unexpected humor into her memoir. Her personal photographs from both past and present are featured, with anecdotal descriptions of family and other survivors. Sandra’s current activism work raises hope for those who may not have a voice of their own. “Don’t let your silence be another person’s death. Fighting for each other is the only way we all win”, she concludes.
It is difficult to imagine anyone not being tremendously moved by this compelling memoir, and it is a timely addition to the current climate regarding immigrants and refugees. This would be an amazing book club or classroom discussion book. Additionally, hand this to enthusiasts of memoirs such as I am Malala by Malala Yousafzai with Christina Lamb, or fictionalized immigrant/refugee stories such as Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys, American Street by Ibi Zoboi, or Refugee by Alan Gratz.
— Lisa Krok
The Lines We Cross by Randa Abdel-Fattah
May 9, 2017
Mina is an outsider – new to town, and new to the private school where she has a scholarship. She and her family immigrated to Australia from Afghanistan as refugees, settling in a Muslim neighborhood. Michael is an insider, an Aussie born and bred, whose parents happen to be leading the fight to ban refugees settling in their country.
Mina’s family moves closer to her school so she doesn’t have to commute, but away from the close-knit community they have come to love. When they want to open an Afghani restaurant next to a popular pizza place, they are faced with racism and resistance, with Michael’s father leading the march.
This is a very timely tale of two young people from backgrounds that are at odds, who find themselves attracted to each other and completely confused about it. The issues of immigration and racism are at the forefront as Michael’s perspective shifts from one of blind patriotism to one of compassion and curiosity about the bigger world. There is a lot to be learned for non-Muslim teens about the culture and experiences these innocent families have endured and it is told from two points of view to allow the reader to understand the inner turmoil and changes taking place with the two main characters.
Randa Abdel-Fattah is earning a name as a spokesperson for Muslim teens and educator for the masses. This is her fourth novel, and they all come highly recommended.
American Street by Ibi Zoboi
Balzer + Bray
February 14, 2017
Fabiola Toussaint and her mom, Haiti citizens, are just flight away from the land of opportunity. Both are ready to leave Haiti and begin a new life in America and pursue the American dream. However, that was not the case. While Fabiola was able to come to America, her mom was detained from coming into the country.
Alone, scared, and confused, Fabiola arrives in Detroit. She is met by her cousins, Chantal, Primadonna and Princess, aka the three Bs—Brains, Brawn, and Beauty. They take her home, which is on the corner of American Street and Joy Road.
Fabiola slowly begins to adjust to living in Detroit. She shares a room with one of the cousins. She is admitted to University Liggett, a private school in Grosse Pointe. She eats food that tastes foreign to her tongue. Fabiola wears clothes that she thinks are too tight and revealing. Fabiola meets one of her cousins’ friends from the dangerous and violent boyfriend to the nice, smart and hard-working ones. One friend is attracted to Fabiola, who Fabiola could possibly like, too.
The more Fabiola adjusts to the American lifestyle, the more she fiercely embraces her cultural identity and practices her cultural traditions. The more she tries to understand her cousins’ lifestyle, the more she becomes confused and curious about it. The more she misses her mom and wants her here in America.
In American Street, Ibi Zoboi depicts the challenges immigrants face when they arrive in America. Like many other immigrants, Fabiola finds it difficult to maintain her unique cultural identity while adapting and adjusting to the American culture. Although Fabiola’s relatives and friends represent the different behaviors, attitudes, and customs of American cultures, their attempts to pursue the American dream is as difficult for them as it is for Fabiola. The cousins’ lifestyle is enticing, yet mysterious, and Zoboi’s writes a suspenseful story that leads to an unexpected and dramatic conclusion. Life is hard for Black and poor American citizens, and even more so for immigrants of color. American Street attests to that fact.
— Karen Lemmons