Refugee

by Alan Gratz (2017)

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 context, yet united in their common journeys to escape cruelty and 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 safety, refuge, and a home. Readers follow each of their plights. The force that propels each of these young characters forward is the hope of tomorrow and of better circumstances for their families.

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 circumstances his three heroes 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 human decency, regardless of political persuasion. Could it be that we as humans share more similarities than differences?

As Josef flees Nazi Germany, Isabel evades Fidel Castro, and Mahmoud is driven from his war-torn home in Syria. All are pulled closer to their families and must develop an inner resolve to persist and seek justice. Each character asks questions about their place in the world and offers survival strategies.

Josef

“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?”

Isabel

“Couldn’t the Bahamas just let them stay?  How was one more Cuban family going to hurt?  They had plenty of room!”

Mahmoud

“Mahmoud was invisible.  And that’s exactly how he wanted it.  Being invisible was how he survived.”

Refugee offers students, schools, and perhaps families, much to discuss, wonder, and share. These three stories will spur conversations about survival, resilience, responsibility, and human rights. Don’t miss the opportunity to share this provocative book that weaves history and personal responsibility into one amazing novel that middle schools across the country are talking about.