Review of Refugee

Air raids, shoot-outs, taxi holdups- nothing seemed to faze him anymore.  Was he just keeping all his tears and screams pent up inside, or was he becoming so used to horrible things happening all around him that he didn’t notice anymore?

How do you discuss the horrible things happening in our world in a meaningful way with your children when they happen to catch a glimpse of the evening news?  When your little one crawls into your lap and asks what will happen to the children fleeing their homeland in Syria, what do you say?  When they begin to understand that a hurricane or tornado could rip their home or their lives apart, how do you assuage their fears?  For my family, we often turn to well-written books that gingerly, yet boldly, address the horrors, evils, and ills that threaten to rip the very seams of our society in an age-appropriate, hope-promoting way.  Alan Gratz’s Refugee is one of those books.

Refugee follows the journeys of three children from different times as they flee war, threats, and overbearing governments and seek freedom.  Josef is a young Jewish boy escaping the Nazis of Berlin, Germany; Isabel is a young Cuban girl whose family seeks a new life free from the reign of Castro; and Mahmoud is a young Syrian boy whose family is desperate to escape his war-torn home of Aleppo.  Each child faces a treacherous trek to freedom.  Despite the horrors they witness, hope reigns eternal within the hearts of each child.

Mahmoud, Josef, and Isabel witness loss and incredible acts of sacrifice, as they try to escape from circumstances beyond their control.  Each child endures what no child should have to bear:  bombings, the mental collapse of loved ones, death, and more.  Gratz handles the horrors of their circumstances in a way that children will understand what real children faced during the Holocaust, Cuban communism, and the civil war of Syria without becoming fearful themselves.  Each hero in this story bravely faces circumstances that many of us couldn’t fathom with grace, with maturity, and with the expectation that they can make a difference in a world that seems to be crumbling around them.

My daughter, who is currently into historical fiction, devoured the book in a matter of days.  Her understanding that the uncertainties of this world can be faced with courage, hope, and faith grew.  Through the reading of books like Gratz’s, my daughter’s empathy and sense of responsibility in pursuing justice is ignited.  All is not right with the world, but rather than fear the uncertainty, books with heroes and heroines like Isabel, Josef, and Mahmoud remind us that the human spirit is resilient, that as long as we have faith in the truth that a loving God is in control then through love, we can overcome the evil in this world.  It demands great sacrifice and selflessness, but it is possible.  They weren’t invisible anymore, hidden away in the detention center.  People were finally seeing them, and good people were helping them.

All my life, I kept waiting for things to get better.  For the bright promise of mañana.  But a funny thing happened while I was waiting on the world to change:  It didn’t.  Because I didn’t change it.  I’m not going to make the same mistake twice.

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