This is another book I picked up in my Waterstones haul. It is a children’s book and I found it to be a very compelling book to read. It touches upon a topic that I think a lot of us ignore or aren’t willing to find out about but is told through the innocent young eyes of the protagonist Alexa.
The synopsis of the book is as follows [this time the synopsis is actually taken from the back of the book]:
There used to be an empty chair at the back of my class, but now a new boy called Ahmet is sitting in it.
He’s nine years old (just like me), but he’s very strange. He never talks and never smiles and doesn’t even like lemon sherberts, which are my favourite!
But then I learned the truth: Ahmet isn’t strange at all. He’s a Refugee who’s run away from a War. A real one. With bombs and bullies that hurt people. The more I find out about him, the more I want to help.
That’s where my best friends Josie, Michael and Tom come in. Because together we’ve come up with a plan…
Ability to read – I read this on Saturday afternoon while suffering from a migraine. It was easy to read and follow along what was happening. There was an element of whimsy to Alexa and what the mission was. The easy friendship between the four kids was charming to read and reminded me that while school can be hard, there are silver linings like the strong friendship these four had. Ahmet was a likeable character and written in a way that allowed me to form my own opinion of him and make my own conclusions about his situation. Everything was explained very well and I got a sense of urgency, desperation and determination that I don’t think I would have gotten if the main character had been an adult.
Characterisation – Ahmet was an easy character to love with his shy personality and the hardships/horrors he had endured to come to England. It was easy to see why people would choose to view him one of two ways with no middle ground.
I actually thought the main character, Alexa was a boy until near the very end when it was revealed she wasn’t. I don’t know if that was intentional by the author or not but it definitely made me rethink my opinions. It made all the actions seem braver and bigger in knowing that Alexa was actually a girl. I’m a bit on the fence about whether I think that’s a good thing or not.
I think the adults were portrayed splendidly, especially the voices that didn’t like refugees. It was subtle but enough for the nine year-olds to take notice of and form their own opinions about. Having such a difficult topic told through children made it more important. I think as adults we have a tendency to ignore things because they aren’t relevant to our lives or are uninteresting but this story changed my mind on many things because it stands as a reminder that there are two sides to every story.
Visualisation – From the very beginning I could clearly visualise what I was reading. Onjali J. Rauf has an ease of writing where he takes you calmly down the river in a boat and you don’t realise all that you are learning. The characters became clear figures in my mind with distinct features and voices.
Uniqueness – I thought the plot was rather unique, I definitely haven’t read a story about current refugees before and it certainly makes you think about the topic and why some people are so negative towards it. The mains characters thought was very individual and different. I love the take on how easy it is to make changes as a kid but still how that there are negative people or bullies within all cultures.
This book had a very warm feeling to it. It made me think and explore a topic that most people view as just black and white. It reminded me that we all deserve to live in somewhere safe.