Rummanah Aasi

Description: Fourteen-year-old Ahmed is stuck in a city that wants nothing to do with him. Newly arrived in Brussels, Belgium, Ahmed fled a life of uncertainty and suffering in Syria, only to lose his father on the perilous journey to the shores of Europe. Now Ahmed's struggling to get by on his own, but with no one left to trust and nowhere to go, he's starting to lose hope.
   Then he meets Max, a thirteen-year-old American boy. Lonely and homesick, Max is being bothered by a bully at school, he doesn't speak a word of French, and just can't seem to do anything right. But with one startling discovery, Max and Ahmed's lives collide, banding the boys together to help Ahmed survive. As their friendship grows, Ahmed and Max defy the odds, learning from each other what it means to be brave, and how hope can change your destiny.

Review: Ahmed and Max have been uprooted from their homes for very different reasons and form an unusual friendship built upon empathy and understanding in present-day Brussels. Ahmed flees war-torn Syria with his father after a bomb kills the rest of their family. His father jumps from the leaky raft he and other escaping refugees are on to prevent it from sinking in the middle of the Mediterranean. A rogue wave sweeps him away and he is presumed dead, adding to Ahmed's insurmountable grief and loss. A fellow refugee takes him in and they eventually join a refugee tent camp in Brussels, but anti-Muslim sentiment is running high in Belgium. When the tent city is shut down, Ahmed is terrified of being deported and takes shelter in the wine cellar of a home.
   The home is newly occupied by Max's family who has been transplanted from America to Brussels due to his father's job as a NATO contractor. Max is bullied in school for being an outsider and his poor French language skills. He becomes intrigued with the history of the house when he learns that a Jewish child was hidden in the basement during World War II. When Max discovers Ahmed and learns his story, the two form a tentative friendship at first. Max is not sure if Ahmed is a terrorist once he finds out that he is Muslim and from Syria like he has heard from his French tutor, but through common hobbies and interest, Max corrects his assumption and the two boys slowly open up to one another. Determined to keep Ahmed hidden, Max is determined help him in anyway that he can.
   Nowhere Boy is a timely novel that is at times heartbreaking and inspiring account of humanity. There is a small mistake in the mistranslated of the popular Muslim phrase in the book. Marsh utilizes both art and history to draw parallels in her story. The World War II story reminds us that hysteria and hate came at a grave consequence and asks us if we have learned from our mistakes of the past. The book skillfully discusses the perils of immigrants, openly addresses Islamaphobia, xenophobia, terrorism, and the Syrian Civil War with sensitivity and honesty. Max is a role model of standing up for what is right for young readers and all of us.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There are mentions of bombings, war, and drownings of refugees on boats. There are also mentions of terror attacks in Paris, France and in Brussels, Belgium which unfortunately really occurred. Recommended for Grades 5 and up.

If you like this book try: Refugee by Alan Gratz, Sea Prayer by Khaled Hosseini
4 Responses
  1. Sounds like a very timely book. Great review. I'll be seeking this one out. Thanks.

  2. I like the sound of this one and what a great parallel to draw between the craziness of WWII and today.

  3. The sounds like a powerful and informative and heartbreaking read. This is wonderful for young readers, to teach them about sensitivity.

  4. I'm always curious how receptive students are to this type of book, where the message is quite overt.

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