Tuesday, March 19, 2019


Refugee. Alan Gratz. 2017. Scholastic. 352 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: Crack! Bang!

Premise/plot: Refugee has three narrators and three settings. Josef Landau's story takes place in Germany and at sea in 1939; Isabel Fernandez's story takes place in Cuba and at sea in 1994; Mahmoud Bishara's story takes place in Syria and surrounding regions in 2015. Refugee is about three families who had no choice but to flee their countries.

There are many stories about Jews trying to escape Hitler. Josef Landau and his family make it aboard a ship bound for Cuba. You would think that they'd feel safe and secure; confident that at last they've managed to escape Hitler. But Josef's father's time in a camp has made it impossible for him to trust. Josef wants to believe the best....

Isabel and her family have wanted to leave Cuba for years--probably as long as Isabel has been alive. But when protests take an ugly turn and Castro relents and 'allows' people to leave the island, her family jumps at the chance. (It may be her father's ONLY chance to survive. To return to Cuba would at the very least mean imprisonment if not death since he was an active participant in the violent protests.) But they know they are not safe until they've literally walked on dry land in the States. To be "rescued" at sea would be a cruel punishment.

Mahmoud's family is desperate to leave Syria. Many--if not most are. They have no choice but to leave everything behind and set out on a long journey to an uncertain future. Their goal is Europe--the European Union. So few countries in the world are accepting refugees...

These three stories share a common theme.

My thoughts: Refugee is an intense, compelling, engaging read. I read it one sitting; the book would not let me put it down. The situations are dramatic and tense. The characters are well drawn. You can't help getting emotionally involved in their lives and stories. Within a few chapters, how could anyone fail to be drawn into the story?

Refugee is a story that you know is intentionally written to get you to think or rethink where you stand on important issues of immigration and refugees. One could make the argument that it is an issue-driven novel, a "problem" novel.

Refugee is a story whose characters live and breathe. How could it be anything other than a character-driven novel? Or, for that matter how can it be anything other than a plot-driven novel? I mean the ACTION is packed into this one. Each story is a matter of life-and-death. Each chapter pushes you closer and closer. WILL THE FAMILIES FIND SAFETY? Will these characters that you've come to love SURVIVE?

© 2019 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Alyssa Nelson 9:08 AM  

This book sounds incredibly intense, but super important. I love that this author is telling a story that has readers empathize with this sort of story. Great review!

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I am interested in reviewing books and audio books. This blog focuses on books written for middle grade on up (essentially 10 to a 110). I review middle grade fiction and young adult fiction (aka tween and teen).

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I read in a variety of genres including realistic fiction, historical fiction, mystery, romance, science fiction, fantasy, literary fiction, and chick lit. (I've read one western to date.)

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I am more interested in strong characters, well-written, fleshed-out, human characters. Plot is secondary to me in a way. I have to care about the characters in order to care about the plot. That being said, compelling storytelling is something that I love. I love to become absorbed in what I'm reading.

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