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Review: Refugee by Alan Gratz

Title: Refugee
Author: Alan Gratz
Year Published: 2018

Genre: YA fiction (historical fiction)
Pages: 317 plus maps and Author's note on history
Rating: 5 out of 5

Location (my 2018 Google Reading map): Germany, Cuba, and Syria

FTC Disclosure: I borrowed this book from my school library

Summary (from the inside flap of the book): Josef is a Jewish boy living in 1930s Nazi Germany. With the threat of concentration camps looming, he and his family board a ship bound for the other side of the world...

Isabel is a Cuban girl in 1994. With riots and unrest plaguing her country, she and her family set out on a raft, hoping to find safety in America...

Mahmoud is a Syrian boy in 2015. With his homeland torn apart by violence and destruction, he and his family begin a long trek toward Europe...

All three kids go on harrowing journeys in search of refuge. All will face unimaginable dangers--from drownings to bombings to betrayals. But there is always the hope of tomorrow. And although Josef, Isabel, and Mahmoud are separated by continents and decades, shocking connections will tie their stories together in the end.

Review: To become a history teacher I had to take national exams because I wasn't a history major in college. One of the essay questions was my favorite that I have ever had to write: compare three instances of immigration covering three different continents and three different centuries. Alan Gratz' novel Refugee tackles the same idea and he does it so well. 

I loved this book from start to finish! Following three young teens as they and their families experience harrowing life journeys to freedom is tense, emotional, interesting, and important. Gratz shows the reader that the themes of family, fear, bravery, and hope are universal, spanning time, location and religion. 

Josef's story is more widely known than the other two as he is escaping Nazi Germany. However, his journey across the Atlantic to Cuba is one that most students and adults won't know. Isabel's story is one we in the US should all be familiar with as Cuban refugees have shown up on our shores for decades. However, I have never read much about it and it was good to learn details of the journey and arriving in the US. The third story, that of Mahmoud fleeing Syria, is still happening and should be in the news, but our news cycles move on too quickly. The arduous journey over land and sea from Syria to Europe is an also important to read about.

The storylines, the characters, the descriptions, the emotions, the settings... it all worked for me. I also loved that Gratz included real life historical background on each of the stories at the end so that the reader learns what was taken from real life. It makes the stories that much more powerful.

Challenges for which this counts: 

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