Peer Review by sophiacriesoverabook (United States)

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Reading "Refugee" by Alan Gratz (Review for review!)

By: Riya

“You can live as a ghost, waiting for death to come, or you can dance.”

Stuck at sea and waiting for a way to escape the dangers of home, the only thing these refugees can do is dance and try to forget their struggles. The refugees were facing such helpless situations, they could only find solace in carefree acts like dancing. The unfortunate truth is that the 6.6 million Syrian refugees in the first half of 2020 alone were overlooked with all the insanity that has taken over news networks. It is time to recognize the struggles of refugees, past and present, with the eye-opening book, Refugee.

In this book, Alan Gratz sheds light on historical events while still managing to weave an enticing tale of three children seeking refuge. This historical fiction novel follows the stories of Josef, Isabel, and Mahmoud through various time periods. Living in Nazi Germany in the 1930s, Josef needs to escape after the Nazis attack his Jewish family. Isabel is escaping the civil unrest in her home country of Cuba in 1994. Finally, there is Mahmoud -a boy in Aleppo, Syria, escaping the war in 2015. 

Although these kids seem to live entirely different, yet equally terrifying lives, they have the same goal: to survive their journey to seek refuge. Josef's home gets raided by Nazis in the dead of the night, sparking his family's decision to leave Nazi Germany. Isabel needs to leave her because of riots in the heart of Havana, where her Papi is beaten up by police. This seems a bit familiar, don't you think? Then there's Mahmoud, whose apartment building is hit by a missile. An entire wall of his apartment is destroyed and his 10-year-old brother doesn't flinch. 

I would whole-heartedly recommend this book to those who enjoy being at the edge of their seat wondering what will happen next. Refugee captures accurate images of historical events, so it is ideal for those who would like to delve into these moments in time. Although it is geared toward a younger audience of middle schoolers, I feel that even adults should read this book because of its impactful description of the lives of refugees.

What I enjoyed most about this book was how you get attached to the characters. I felt like I was right there with Mahmoud when he's in a car getting shot at. Right next to Isabel in her leaky raft trying not to sink. Right there watching with dread as Josef's Star of David armband falls in front of a Hitler Youth boy. Whenever a character was forced to overcome an obstacle in their journey, I was there rooting for them and hoping they would survive. I found the writing to be very emotional and you could really connect with the characters. For instance, this section about Mahmoud is quite poignant: "Mahmoud had heard funeral prayers too many times in his short life, most recently for his cousin Sayid, who had died when a barrel bomb exploded. Mahmoud quickly recited one now." I think that Mahmoud's story was the most interesting and the one I was captivated by the most. It intrigued me because he, in my opinion, has the most difficult life out of all of these children and he is just my age. His story is still relevant due to the ongoing Syrian war. His sacrifices and the fact that a child around my age knows exactly how to avoid artillery shells from experience is heartbreaking. Mahmoud's story opened my eyes to the privilege we have and how much we take for granted when there are people in the world who get turned away just for asking to be able to survive.

This book flipped between each main character's narration. Often, when there are multiple narrators, it gets difficult to understand each character's situation on a deeper level. Despite each narrator being in a wildly different environment, I still connected with them which is what I find admirable about the writing. However, the changes between the narrators are also the book's weakness since they seemed a bit abrupt occasionally. Sometimes, the cliffhangers made me want to skip to the next time it was, say, Isabel's turn to tell her story. One example is when Isabel is in her raft headed to Miami and the chapter ends at this: "It was the enormous tanker headed right for them." After that come the stories of Josef and Mahmoud and, by then, the momentum of that cliffhanger is gone.

"Her foot tapped in time with the hidden cadence, and she realized with a thrill that she was finally hearing it."

What was also interesting to see was the way it all fit together and how certain ideas continued throughout the story. For Isabel, an aspiring musician, the theme of counting clave (a hidden beat in Cuban music) is consistently found throughout her journey to the United States. Another interesting component was that the three stories all intertwine towards the end even though it seems like Josef, Isabel, and Mahmoud are in wildly different worlds. I'll give you a hint: Mahmoud is trekking to Germany, Josef is headed for Cuba, and Isabel sets sail on her barely functioning raft to the US.

All in all, I found Refugee to be an emotional story that is full of ups and downs, twists and turns. It truly opens one's eyes and shows the difficulties so many people have faced and are still suffering. I would like to thank my English teacher for recommending this book to me and I want to do the same and tell you that this is a must-read. Refugee is definitely a novel that needs to be on your bookshelf. 

Word count: 958
I'd love any feedback you have.

Message to Readers

I know, I'm a procrastinator. Let me know what you think!

Peer Review

You describe the heartbreak you felt while reading very well, and as somebody who loves depressing stories, that made me want to read it.

I think the part about the points of views changing and the momentum dying isn't needed. The point of the review is to boost the book. Maybe include that but point out a positive aspect of the POV's.

Because you speak about the movements of today at the beginning, and it seems like a strong theme then, you should circle back to it towards the end to make it more cohesive.

You are very convincing, and I love how you relate this book to the issues at hand.

Reviewer Comments

Maybe use some synonyms for "refugee," and "refuge." Great Job! I really enjoyed reading your review and would appreciate if you could take a look at mine. Have a lovely day ;)