This moving graphic novel (265 pages) was published in April of 2020 by Dial Books. The book takes you to a Somali refugee camp in Kenya. David read When Stars Are Scattered and loved it; it wouldn't be on our site if he didn't recommend it.
This deeply moving graphic novel tells the story of a Somali refugee camp in Kenya and the people who make their home there. It’s intended for children aged 9 to 12 but is compelling for readers of all ages.
This autobiographical tale is about two brothers, Omar and Hassan, who were forced to flee Somalia after insurgents stormed their house and killed their father. The boys, toddlers at the time, were then separated from their mother and sisters and made their way to the desert refugee camp called Dadaab.
When the story opens, the boys have been in the refugee camp for 7 years. Cared for by an older woman who’s ‘adopted’ them, they live in a tent and sleep on a mat atop the dirt floor.
Dadaab is the equivalent of a small city. When Omar and Hassan arrived, the population was about 150,000; it’s since grown to a quarter of a million, making it the third-largest refugee center in the world. And everyone there is suffering from a trauma of some kind: catatonia, drug use, nightmares, ossified anger. The inhabitants of Dadaab have lost everything, and they live in crushing poverty with hunger as a constant companion. And always waiting. Waiting for food, for water, to be resettled. Years of undefined, unrelenting waiting.
But as grim as this story is, it magically, miraculously, has a core of optimism. Boys play soccer with a ball made from plastic bags, and education offers a tantalizing way out of the refugee center and back into life. The main storyline is about Omar and his commitment to learning. He is intelligent and motivated and knows that learning is the only means of escape.
But he also needs to take care of his little brother, who’s mostly adorable but is non-verbal and sometimes has seizures. And what about their mother? Can Omar find her and reunite their family?
This is a harrowing story, well told, with colorful art that, to adult eyes, feels like a juxtaposition of message and visuals, and for younger readers, will soften the sharper edges of the narrative. Readers with even the slightest bit of empathy will need a nice walk and, perhaps, a little lie-down after this one, but will, ultimately, be glad to have spent time with Omar and Hassan.
Worth noting: In an unusual move for a graphic novel, this book is also available as a well-reviewed audiobook with a full cast, music, and sound effects.
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