Marshmallow has recently read Alan Gratz’ novel Refugee and below shares her thoughts on this moving fictional account of three refugee children across recent history. As Marshmallow also points out below, the stories are harsh and harrowing. The publisher recommends the book for 8 and up, so does Marshmallow.
Marshmallow’s quick take: If you like realistic and historical fiction, then this might be the book for you. (Warning: This is a very harsh book and should not be read by readers under 9.)
Marshmallow’s summary (with spoilers):
“JOSEF is a Jewish boy living in 1930s Nazi Germany…”
“ISABEL is a Cuban girl living in 1994…”
“MAHMOUD is a Syrian boy in 2015…”
All of these kids are relatable and normal. Their experiences, on the other hand, are something that nobody should have to face.
Josef’s father is taken away to a concentration camp called Dachau. When he comes back, his family is overjoyed but when they see him they realize that he is mentally disturbed. The family then receive news that they have to leave Germany in fourteen days.
Isabel lives on the streets, and when her father gets involved in a protest, he is told to leave.
Mahmoud is a present-day Syrian boy and he learns that to stay away from bullies you have to be “invisible”. Then his house is bombed and it becomes clear that he has to leave.
These three different families set out on the same mission: make it to a safe place. This for Josef is Cuba, for Isabel it is el norte, the US, and for Mahmoud it is Germany. Along the way, all lose someone that they care about, whether physically or mentally.
Josef’s family is breaking up and his father is scared. They board a ship called The St. Louis in order to escape the Nazis, but eventually Josef’s father tries to commit suicide by jumping off the side of the ship.
“Josef’s father was gone. His mother was unconscious. His little sister was all by herself. And they would never let Josef’s family into Cuba now, not after his father had gone mad. Josef and his family would be sent back to Germany. Back to the Nazis.
“Josef’s world was falling apart, and he didn’t see any way to put it back together again.”
Sadly, he never does. Josef never makes it to Cuba and only two members of the Landau family survive.
Isabel tries to escape from Cuba with her family and her friend’s family. They build a boat to escape but soon they face the fury of the ocean.
Mahmoud and his family start the long journey to Germany and lose each other in order to save each other.
“All three kids go on a harrowing journeys. All face unimaginable dangers. 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.”
Marshmallow’s review: This is a very good book. It might be the most moving book I have ever read, but it should definitely not be read by younger readers. It has stories about the Nazis and other terrible things that children should not learn about until a little bit older. Though Josef’s story is fictional, it is very similar to what happened to a lot of Jewish families. Isabel has terrible losses and she faces many dangers. Mahmoud’s family is eventually drained of joy in the journey to Germany and to safety.
Marshmallow’s rating: 100% (but this is not happy reading…)