Refugee Review

First review for the day. I was not able to finish the Lorien Legacies for one reason or another, and so we will see how reviews will break down from this point on. I hope you are all doing well Voidfriends.

Customary warning: This is a reminder that these are my personal opinions. My thoughts and feelings are not your thoughts and feelings. I may not always be the target  audience for a book; sometimes I am. If I do not like a book, that doesn’t mean you’ll dislike it. If I love a book or simply like a book, you may hate it. Take everything I say with this knowledge. If it sounds interesting to you despite what I’ve said, then go ahead and read it. You’ll only know you like something if you read it yourself.

That being said… Spoilers ahead.




Refugee by Alan Gratz

Synopsis From 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.

This action-packed novel tackles topics both timely and timeless: courage, survival, and the quest for home.


Drama | MG – W |Guns, Death, fear of capture, mental illness from abuse | The necessity for escape, Courage, Fear of Others


Initial Thoughts Before Reading:

My personally hosted book club book of the month is this one. Since we already were meeting across country, our method of communication is online. So, we can still have our book club. This book was picked by one of my friends. We are probably going to read the last one in May, because I think I want to try to convince them to read one of my OWL books for April. I don’t have very many opinions on this book, considering that it takes place all over the world. I do think, however, that reading this novel will help me decide to post my American Dirt review or not. So, lets dive in.

Initial Thoughts After Reading:

Well this book made me almost cry. Those connections at the end were just too much for my heart. Also, reading what horrors people have to go through to try to get to safety always is too much. Reminds me of how easy I have it where I live.

Plot Overview:

The story follows three kids.

The first is Josef, who is 12 (almost 13). His father is taken from his family on Kristallnacht. He is later “returned” and their family has ten days to get out of the country. Josef’s mother gets them visas to Cuba, that will then help them get to America. They board the ship, but Josef realizes his father is not the same. Over the course of their journey, Josef realizes what it means to be a Jew in Nazi Germany, while also realizing that the world of freedom he has on the boat is not the one of truth. They boat, the MS St. Louis, gets to Cuba but the passengers are denied entry. They are told they will dock tomorrow, but tomorrow never comes until one day Josef’s father jumps over board, and the boat is told to return. Josef never sees his father again. The ship tries to get to Miami and is unable to, so the Jews are brought back to Europe. Josef, his mother and sister settle in France, only for WWII to break out shortly after, and for France to be invaded eight months later. Josef and his sister continue to be on the run for a long while, until they are caught by Nazi’s and Josef’s mother is told she has to pick between her children, which one will be sent with her to a concentration camp or not. Josef decides when she can not.

The second is Isabel. She is a Cuban girl. When her father ends up involved in a riot, she and her family are forced to flee, along with another family next door, to try to get to America. They leave with a boat, and have to take the boat all the way to Miami. If they are found in the water they will be sent back to Cuba and that can not happen. Most of their journey is plagued by boat trouble, and a monster storm that sends them to the Bahamas. Her mother, who is pregnant, falls ill and they almost make it to Miami before they are surrounded by sharks. Isabel’s friend, and member of the other family, Ivan is killed by a shark, and they are intercepted by the US Coast Guard. In an attempt to try to give his family more time to swim to shore, Isabel’s grandfather jumps from the boat. He reveals to Isabel, that he was one of the police who interacted with the Jews of a boat called the MS St. Louis, and one of the police who told them they had to go, and he knows full well what that meant to send them back to Europe. It is a regret he has, but he will ensure his family gets to safety. Isabel and her family manage to swim ashore, even with her mother giving birth, and because they are on shore, American soil, they are legally allowed to request asylum. This is where they stay.

Mahmoud is a boy in Syria during the civil wars, 2015, After an airstrike decimates their home, Mahmoud, his brother, sister, mother, and father travel to Turkey to try to get to Germany. Once in Turkey they have to take a raft to get to Greece. For days they are unable to find one, but they get “life preservers” and wait. When the day comes for them to go, they hurry to go, and are packed with many others to the raft. Their raft is overturned because of a storm and rocks, and Mahmoud finds out that their family life preservers are fake. Their family somehow survives in the storm, and Mahmoud and his mother and sister are separated from his father and brother. Another boat comes with refugees, and they will not let them board, but they do take Hana, his little sister, with much persuasion. It is sometime later that the Greek coast guard finds Mahmoud and his mother, and he is reunited with his father and brother. They don’t see his sister again. They are taken to Greece, and take a taxi to Hungary. The Taxi driver steals from them at gun point but they keep going until they are rounded up by boarder patrols and UN officials. They are kept, close to the Austrian border for a while until Mahmoud decides they are just going to walk out to Austria, and that’s what they do. They get to Austria and then to Germany, where they are taken in by an older couple to live with. The wife of the couple was Josef’s little sister, the one he picked to survive when the Nazi’s asked who would live. She swears she will help Mahmoud find his little sister.

What I Liked:

The characters; While this isn’t to say that some characters aren’t immediately relatable. These characters had .5 seconds to introduce themselves, to let you know who they were before everything changed around them and it happened with each one. Watching how they changed, or parts of their personality changed as they went through their journey was interesting to watch as well.

The History; I learned a lot from reading this book. Specifically about events I didn’t already know about. Ms. St Louis, or the 1993 Storm of the Century, and some of the things that Mahmoud went through.

The What You Can Do section at the end really does help explain how people can get involved with helping refugees.

What I Would Have Liked or Changed:

There were colored pages at the start of each new perspective and I really didn’t like them. It kind of took me out of reading, because of how dark grey it was. And then it switched right back to white after, and it really threw me off.

Book Club Thoughts:

We talked about the colored pages which we didn’t like. We thought this was a teaching story, a bit more objective (although there was a lens to it), meant to teach younger audiences about these experiences. We all agreed that we think it’s not a bad book to use as a teaching book for about these situations, for it can draw about a lot of questions and conversations.

We did speak on how, for how much horror there was, most of the stories turned out at least a bit more positive than some refugee stories can turn out.

We spoke on how it was a bit unique that all the kids had a moment of power in the book. Like Josef trying to keep control over his father’s trauma from the concentration camps, or Mahmoud dealing with his family’s trauma.

We spoke on how this book seemed very cut out. Its very objective, and “it felt like a scholastic book fair book.” Very systematic and written as an educator book.

Rating: 4/5

Notable Quotes:

None


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