On My Bookshelf: Refugee by Alan Gratz

August 19, 2019

In Refugee by Alan Gratz, narration alternates between three narrators: Josef, fleeing Nazi Germany on the SS St. Louis, Isabel, sailing from Cuba to Florida on a poorly constructed boat, and Mahmoud, seeking asylum in Germany after escaping from war torn Syria. Each of the teenage narrators shares his or her perspective on life as a refugee during three different historical time periods and events. Read on for more of my review and ideas for classroom application.
The basic plot from Amazon: JOSEF is a Jewish boy living in 1930s Nazi Germany. With the threat of concentration camps looming, he and his family board a ship bound for the other side of the world . . .
ISABEL is a Cuban girl in 1994. With riots and unrest plaguing her country, she and her family set out on a raft, hoping to find safety in America . . .

MAHMOUD is a Syrian boy in 2015. With his homeland torn apart by violence and destruction, he and his family begin a long trek toward Europe . . .

All three kids go on harrowing journeys in search of refuge. All will face unimaginable dangers -- from drownings to bombings to betrayals. 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.

This action-packed novel tackles topics both timely and timeless: courage, survival, and the quest for home.

Why I liked it: There’s been a ton of buzz about Refugee this year thanks to Pernille Ripp and the Global Read Aloud so I’ve been wanting to read the book, but my classroom copy just kept ending up in students’ hands instead of mine.

Well, it was definitely worth the wait. Narration alternates between three narrators: Josef, fleeing Nazi Germany on the SS St. Louis, Isabel, sailing from Cuba to Florida on a poorly constructed boat, and Mahmoud, seeking asylum in Germany after escaping from war torn Syria. Each of the teenage narrators shares his or her perspective on life as a refugee during three different historical time periods and events. While I am familiar with the tragedy of the St. Louis, Refugee offered a personalized account of what the journey and Cuba’s rejection was like for the passengers aboard. I loved the connections that were revealed at the end of the stories as well as the author’s notes at the end about the historical accuracy of events in the novel.
In Refugee by Alan Gratz, narration alternates between three narrators: Josef, fleeing Nazi Germany on the SS St. Louis, Isabel, sailing from Cuba to Florida on a poorly constructed boat, and Mahmoud, seeking asylum in Germany after escaping from war torn Syria. Each of the teenage narrators shares his or her perspective on life as a refugee during three different historical time periods and events. Read on for more of my review and ideas for classroom application.

Classroom application: Middle school students and up who love action, historical fiction, or war stories will be captivated by this one. The quick chapters that often end with a cliffhanger would make this a great choice for a classroom read aloud. For students who enjoyed this book, I would recommend other historical fiction like any of Alan Gratz’s other books, Escape from Aleppo by N.H. Senzai, and Salt to the Sea by Ruta Septys.

After reading, students could research other refugee groups from other time periods and write their own historical fiction account or do additional research about the SS St. Louis, the Wet Foot, Dry Foot policy, or the ongoing conflict in Syria.

If you are interested in purchasing a copy of Refugee for yourself, you can find it on Amazon here.

Note: The Literary Maven is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com.

In Refugee by Alan Gratz, narration alternates between three narrators: Josef, fleeing Nazi Germany on the SS St. Louis, Isabel, sailing from Cuba to Florida on a poorly constructed boat, and Mahmoud, seeking asylum in Germany after escaping from war torn Syria. Each of the teenage narrators shares his or her perspective on life as a refugee during three different historical time periods and events. Read on for more of my review and ideas for classroom application.

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