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Mock Newbery Nominee: Refugee by Alan Gratz

Welcome to the fourth week of Mock Newbery summaries and reviews. This week's title is Refugee by Alan Gratz, the intertwined story of three refugee children and their families from different points in history. Will this suspenseful story of harrowing journeys and action-packed history win a place on your mock ballot?

Summary: Although separated by continents and decades, Josef, a Jewish boy living in 1930s Nazi Germany; Isabel, a Cuban girl trying to escape the riots and unrest plaguing her country in 1994; and Mahmoud, a Syrian boy in 2015 whose homeland is torn apart by violence and destruction, embark on harrowing journeys in search of refuge, discovering shocking connections that tie their stories together.

These stories are not for the faint-hearted. The trials and obstacles each refugee goes through are gut-wrenching and all too real, as Gratz explains in an author's note. Presenting the three stories in alternating chapters helps show the connection between them and allows for good delineation between the main characters, even as their stories follow similar paths. Josef is on the cusp of manhood, and learns how to take decisive action as the safety of his family becomes his responsibility. Isabel must make many sacrifices to keep her family together, and these losses come to define her. Mahmoud begins his story trying to be invisible but learns that you must be seen to be helped.

The quick pacing of the plot give an immediacy to the story, helping the reader feel the anxiety of each refugee's situation. The feeling of trapped claustrophobia is overwhelming at times, particularly during Mahmoud's capsizing ordeal. The various different boats are fully realized settings and stick with you after reading, particularly the homemade boat Isabel escapes on.

Well, did this gripping trio of stories earn your vote?Check back next week for another summary and review if you haven't read all the nominees, then visit our Kid's Page before January 31st to cast your votes.


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