It is easy to assume that refugee stories are all the same, but in my experience, the more I read about the journeys people take in desperation for safety, the more I realize it doesn’t matter if “parts” are similar, the individual experience should never be dismissed or become commonplace. I try to make a point to read them, and spend time with them, and be affected by them, so as to not grow apathetic. I have not read the first book in this series, but this book, the second book can stand alone, and I hope that you will keep an eye out for it when it is published, and spend time with Hakim and his son Hadi. In much of the way the middle grade novel When Stars are Scattered, swept me up and consumed me, this book also enveloped me in the characters’ emotions and left me sobbing and heartbroken more than once. The framing of the story, gratefully shows that Hakim survives, but the power of the words, illustrations, and experience, still physically move you and make you imagine how truly horrific situations must be that force people to risk it all to leave their homes and start over. This 264 page book focuses on the part of his story that takes Hakim from Turkey to Greece, but references to Syria and his life there allow for a fleshed out understanding and appreciation for the trials he has faced, and continues to face, subhahAllah. Suitable for mature teens, at least 16 or 17 and up.
The book starts out with the author/illustrator heading off with his daughter to interview Hakim. His young daughter has heard a lot about Hakim and his family, but never met them. They “recap” the first part of his journey, the first book, and settle in to hear more of his life and the extraordinary circumstances that he has faced to reunite with his family since fleeing the war in Syria.
The birth of his son Hadi is a definite high point in Hakim’s life and the daily struggle of selling enough goods on the streets of Turkey to provide for his son keep Hakim looking forward. With his wife, Najmeh, and her family around them, they crave stability, but are managing. As the days stretch on though, Hakim is prevented from selling without the proper permissions, and his father-in-law is still unable to find work. Hakim’s wife and family are granted permission to relocate, but Hakim and Hadi cannot legally join them. The tearing apart of the family is devastating. And carrying for his young son alone while trying to earn enough to survive is incredibly challenging. When Hakim has exhausted all the legal ways to join his family in France, he considers illegal methods.
An Iraqi neighbor offers him the money needed to hire smugglers, so Hakim is faced with deciding what risks he and his young son are willing to take to “start living.” The step in to the unknown, the crossing of the sea in an inflatable life raft, brings them closer, but with one more book in the series, and not knowing who the children are in the present time scenes, your heart will be made incredibly fragile as you hope that young Hadi survives.
WHY I LIKE IT:
I love that you get to know the characters and can see why they make the decisions they make, or rather why the choose to do what they choose based on the information they have, and the impossible choices before them. I also love that it shows so much humanity. You see Hakim’s story brought to life and you see him and his family as whole people, not just numbers or nameless, faceless victims. You see the joy and devastation, the testament to human strength and mental anguish, it is moving and powerful. I also love that you see the side characters, see the little mercies, and the horrific injustices, often in the same scene. The graphic novel format allows the subtleties to show without the words, it adds to the connection of emotions and truly putting yourself in the character’s shoes.
I like that it should how happenstance much of the journey was for Hakim, at times he didn’t know who to talk to, where to go, what to expect. I was a little confused about the payment to the smugglers, and how it had to be handled after he arrived. I don’t know if my own understanding of how shady the smugglers are based on the media is making it muddled, or if I just missed something in the telling.
There is not a lot of Islam in the book, they don’t stop and make salat or say Bismillah, but they reference thanking Allah swt, and praying to Allah in desperation. Hakim’s mother in law and wife wear hijab.
Fear, smoking, cheating, lying, illegal immigration acts. There is nothing obscene, the older audience recommendation is because of the weight of the subject matter, and the lingering effects of war and escaping.
TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:
This would be an amazing high school book club read. The characters, the relatability, the empathy, it would be great to share it with a group of students that might have similar experiences and provide them with a platform to share with those that might not.