Nowhere Boy

Nowhere Boy

In the darkness 14-year old Ahmed and his father sit tensely in the shallow, open boat with the other refugees, a compass provided by their hopes and dreams. Then, the water starts seeping in around their feet and rising, slowly rising. A young mother holding her little one panics. Are they lost? Will their hopes never, ever reach the shore? Ahmed's father splashes into the sea, swims forward to grasp the rope in the water and begins towing the boat and everyone in the direction of their new life. Then, the wave comes and after it crests and crashes over them, all is silent. No matter how desperately Ahmed calls, his father's voice does not reply.

Around the globe, back in D.C., 13-year old Max is struggling. His parents are watching him sink into mediocrity. Max isn't challenging himself and Max isn't really trying or succeeding. So when the family has the opportunity to move to Brussels, they jump at it and sweep Max away from everything he knows. He is dropped into a foreign country, into a school where only French is spoken, and where he has no friends. Soccer might be his way to belong.

Then, funny little things start happening at home. A banana disappears. Small change evaporates. Nothing big but enough to cause Max, his older sister, and his parents to start quibbling and blaming each other. Until one day, Max goes exploring in the deepest parts of this house, and discovers a secret room where someone is surviving.

It is Ahmed's sanctuary. It is Ahmed's window on the world where he hides from the authorities and tries to figure out how he can rejoin society and not be sent back to war-torn Syria. Ahmed found the doorway and found the room and thought he would simply spend one night there. One night turned into another night and another night. Bits of food and warmth and water were all in reach. He had a place where he could begin to put down some roots, where he could begin to belong to the world again.

The two boys meet. Max has a choice. He can turn Ahmed in to his family and the local policeman who visits their house systematically to gauge the condition and the family. This is a house with a history and it turns out it is a house on a street with history. This is where Jewish refugees were given sanctuary in the dark days of the Holocaust.

This is the story of two boys whose lives come crashing together. It's the story of human compassion, of human fears, of the ability of human beings to turn their backs on each other when they are strangers. The social conditions of immigrants from the Middle East in Europe get a human face in this story. We want the authorities to know that this is a young boy who has lost his father and his family and his place on the planet. He is searching for his relatives and a place to attach himself and a place to dig in and begin to live a life. He is not a terrorist. He is a young boy.

What will happen to Ahmed? Will the authorities find him and jail him or put him in one of the camps? Will they send him back? Does the human race have anything to give to one of their own? Will he actually be seen or will he remain invisible or worse seen as dangerous and a possible terrorist?

This is a brilliant story of the journey of two boys and two lives and two human spirits in the sea of millions of other spirits. That wave that crashed over Ahmed's boat and his courageous father has sent its waveform on and on and on and it keeps on crashing over him. There is no father out there towing the rope with his strength and his utter determination.

Perhaps readers will wade through the fears and find their own compassion and their own membership card to the thing we call humankind. Perhaps they will see Ahmed and Max as sharing so much in common with them. Hope is invisible. Dreams are invisible. We all want to belong to someone and to somewhere.

Powerful, timely, and essential in our times.

Recommended by: Barb Langridge,

*************** An "important and riveting story, masterfully told" of family, sacrifice and the friendship between a young Syrian refugee and an American boy living in Brussels. Nowhere Boy is a "captivating book" that focuses on the "discourse around the refugee crisis." The Center for Children's Books calls it a "perilous journey, tempered by the striking realism of obstacles refugees face daily."

Fourteen-year-old Ahmed is stuck in a city that wants nothing to do with him. Newly arrived in Brussels, Belgium, Ahmed fled a life of uncertainty and suffering in Aleppo, Syria, only to lose his father on the perilous journey to the shores of Europe. Now Ahmed’s struggling to get by on his own, but with no one left to trust and nowhere to go, he’s starting to lose hope.

Then he meets Max, a thirteen-year-old American boy from Washington, D.C. Lonely and homesick, Max is struggling at his new school and just can’t seem to do anything right. But with one startling discovery, Max and Ahmed’s lives collide and a friendship begins to grow. Together, Max and Ahmed' will defy the odds, learning from each other what it means to be brave and how hope can change your destiny.

Set against the backdrop of the Syrian refugee crisis, award-winning author of Jepp, Who Defied the Stars Katherine Marsh delivers a gripping, heartwarming story of resilience, friendship and everyday heroes. Barbara O'Connor, author of Wish and Wonderland, says "Move Nowhere Boy to the top of your to-be-read pile immediately."--from the publisher

368 pages                       978-1250307576                     Ages 10-14

For teachers: I'm Your Neighbor Books ( and Refugee Classroom ( collaborated to create an extensive guide for librarians and educators on the acclaimed middle grade novel NOWHERE BOY.

User reviews

Have you read this book? We'd love to hear what you think. Click the button below to write your own review!