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YA Review: When Stars are Scattered by Victoria Jamieson and Omar Mohamed

Title: When Stars are Scattered

Author: Victoria Jamieson and Omar Mohamed

Year Published: 2020

Category: YA nonfiction (graphic novel memoir)
Pages: 264
Rating: 5 out of 5

Location (my 2021 Google Reading map) Kenya, USA (PA)

Summary (from the inside flap of the book): Omar and his younger brother, Hassan, have spent most of their lives in Dadaab, a refugee camp in Kenya. Life is hard there: never enough food, achingly dull, and without access to the medical care Omar knows his nonverbal brother needs. So when Omar has the opportunity to go to school, he knows it might be a chance to change their future . . . but it would also mean leaving his brother, the only family member he has left, every day.

Heartbreak, hope, and gentle humor exist together in this graphic novel about a childhood spent waiting, and a young man who is able to create a sense of family and home in the most difficult of settings. It's an intimate, important, unforgettable look at the day-to-day life of a refugee, as told to New York Times Bestselling author/artist Victoria Jamieson by Omar Mohamed, the Somali man who lived the story.

Review: This graphic novel is a National Book Award finalist as well as a Youth Media Schneider Family Book Award Honor book for literature dealing with people with disabilities. I love the cover and illustrations in this novel! They capture the feeling, the emotions, and the setting so well.

I chose this book because of the awards it won and I am so glad I did. It takes us through Omar's (and his brother Hassan's) life in the Dadaab Refugee Camp in Kenya where he lives with his younger brother. They do not have their parents with them, but are watched over by many adults in the camp. While the harsh realities of refugee camp life are laid out, the reader also learns of the community, friendship, caring, and support offered to refugees. We see some nonprofit work, but mostly the support comes from friends and neighbors. The reader learns a bit about the civil war in Somalia that caused the refugee crisis, how a refugee camp works (and doesn't), and what it is like to go through the process of trying to get sponsored to go to the US, Australia, the UK, or Canada.

I was swept up in Omar's life, his schooling, chores, dreams, and heartache. When he leaves for America (the end of the book) I was so excited and fearful for him. The Afterwords by both Omar and Victoria give us the follow up to Omar and Hassan's lives, which I love. The fact that Omar gives back to his community is a wonderful lesson for young readers and one that is filled with hope.

This book is aimed at middle graders, but will appeal to upper elementary readers to adult. Through Omar's story reader's learn a bit about his religion, his language, his Somali culture, his dreams, his fears, treatment of the mentally challenged, and more. I am saving this book for my daughter to read when she comes home.

Challenges for which this counts: 
  • Diversity--nonverbal and mentally challenged character and Black author/"characters"
  • Literary Escapes--Kenya
  • Popsugar--Muslim American author

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