Three characters; separated by continents, divided by decades, and bound by harrowing circumstances that reach beyond time and place.
The journeys of the three protagonists in Alan Gratz’s Refugee are distinct in history, yet they share a common trajectory of escaping cruelty to find freedom. Josef from Germany in the 1930s, Isabel from Cuba in 1995, and Mahmoud from Syria in 2015 are all forced from their homes. Each character is pushed and tested beyond measure in their quest to find refuge. Readers follow each of these young characters in alternating turns as they seek safety for their families and hope for tomorrow.
“Why? thought Josef. Why bother hunting us down and taking us back to prison? If the Nazis want us Jews gone so badly, why don’t they just let us keep going?”
“Couldn’t the Bahamas just let them stay? How was one more Cuban family going to hurt? She looked back at the pier and nice café. They had plenty of room!”
“Mahmoud Bishara was invisible, and that’s exactly how he wanted it. Being invisible was how he survived.”
Gratz masterfully portrays these poignant and political questions from the perspectives of three apolitical children caught in the turmoil of countries divided. Gratz focuses on the personal, individual stories to humanize the actual historical events his three children endure. Despite the years separating them historically, Josef, Isabel, and Mahmoud all share similar heartbreaks, struggles, scares, and small victories. Refugee is ultimately three stories of finding human decency in the midst of great despair. Could it be that we as humans have more similarities than differences?
As Josef, Isabel, and Mahmoud are thrust into desperate situations, they are all pulled closer to their families, asking hard questions about their place in the world. Refugee offers students, schools, and families the opportunity to reflect and discuss how ordinary people find themselves in extraordinary circumstances. These three stories will spur conversations in your school about survival, resilience, responsibility, and human rights.