Book Review: Refugee

Refugee by Alan Gratz


Published by Scholastic in 2017

Alan Gratz is incredible at telling a historical story in a way that forces you to care about the characters, with a storyline that never drags. Refugee is the story of three teenagers a different times. Josef lives in Germany in 1939, Isabel lives in Cuba in 1994, and Mahmoud lives in Syria in 2015.

Josef’s father is sent to a concentration camp and is released if his family leaves Germany. Josef and his family get on a ship and he notices how his father has changed. As they get closer to Cuba, there are rumors that they may not be let into the country. Where will they go? What will happen to them?

Isabel’s father is being targetted by the police. Isabel teams up with a neighbor and her family to take a small boat to Miami. If they get caught before they hit the beach, they will be sent back to Cuba.

Mahmoud’s family is apartment is destroyed by a mortar strike. He and his family leave Syria to get to Turkey and then Greece. Mahmoud has learned that you survived in Syria by not being noticed, but that may be the death of them as refugees.

Although these stories take place at different times, they have common threads. And I’m struck by how Gratz weaves these stories together and shows how easily everyone’s tables can turn.

There was one thing that annoyed me. Each character has a different religion, and instead of having the Muslim character talk about Allah, the Jewish charcter talk about G-d, and the Christian character talk about God, he has them all talk about God. A part of me realizes that he is trying to show that all these characters are very similar, but I worry that he’s not being thoughtful of these character’s identity.

Overall, I loved this book! It is a fast paced story that tries to humanize a crisis that is hard for our students to wrap their mind around. In the author’s note, he makes a point to tell readers what they can do.


“What if her life was a song? No, not a song. A life was a symphony, with different movements and complicated musical forms. A song was something shorter. A smaller piece of life. This journey was a song,” (p. 155)

“You can live life as a ghost, waiting for death to come, or you can dance.” (p. 239)

“It was better to be visible. To stand up. To stand out.” (p. 282)

*I recieved this ARC from the publisher, I recieved no monetary compensation for this review. Quotes may change in the final publication.


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