Written by Alan Gratz, separated by decades, Josef, a Jew living in 1930s Nazi Germany; Isabel, a girl trying to escape unrest in 1994 Cuba; and Mahmoud, a Syrian boy in 2015 whose homeland is torn apart by violence, embark on journeys in search of refuge.
In this hard-hitting novel, Gratz (Projekt 1065) skillfully intertwines the stories of three protagonists seeking asylum with their respective families. Twelve-year-old Josef is fleeing Nazi Germany on a ship headed for Cuba in 1939; in 1994, 11-year-old Isabel leaves Cuba for the United States aboard a boat; and 12-year-old Mahmoud leaves Syria in 2015 after a bomb destroys his family’s apartment building. Though set in different political landscapes, the harrowing narratives share a sense of urgency, danger, and sacrifice, and the brief chapters keep each story fresh in readers’ minds. Each character confronts exceptional challenges: Josef must behave as the adult when his father returns shattered from a concentration camp, and Mahmoud realizes that the invisibility he cultivated in Aleppo is less of an asset in Greece (“They only see us when we do something they don’t want us to do”). Filled with both tragic loss and ample evidence of resilience, these memorable and tightly plotted stories contextualize and give voice to current refugee crises, underscoring that these journeys are born out of a desperate need for security and safety. Ages 9–12. Agent: Holly Root, Root Literary. (July) –Staff (Reviewed 05/22/2017) (Publishers Weekly, vol 264, issue 21, p)