JOSEF is a Jewish boy living in 1930s Nazi Germany. With the threat of concentration camps looming, he and his family board a ship bound for the other side of the world . . .

ISABEL is a Cuban girl in 1994. With riots and unrest plaguing her country, she and her family set out on a raft, hoping to find safety in America . . .

MAHMOUD is a Syrian boy in 2015. With his homeland torn apart by violence and destruction, he and his family begin a long trek toward Europe . . .

All three kids go on harrowing journeys in search of refuge. All will face unimaginable dangers -- from drownings to bombings to betrayals. But there is always the hope of tomorrow. And although Josef, Isabel, and Mahmoud are separated by continents and decades, shocking connections will tie their stories together in the end.

This action-packed novel tackles topics both timely and timeless: courage, survival, and the quest for home.--from the publisher

352 pages    978-0545880831    Ages 9-12


Gratz tackles the idea of countries in turmoil by focusing on three children from three different time periods. Josef is a German Jew whose family is able to evade the Nazis after his father is arrested, and eventually book passage on a fairly nice ship bound for Cuba. They eventually run into complications, and the captain attempts to land them in the US and then the UK. Isabel lives in Cuba in 1994, and her family is struggling with the lack of food and the unrest in the country until the father feels that he will be arrested unless they leave. With the help of another family who has built a boat, they start on a perilous voyage to the US which is complicated by Isabel's mother's pregnancy. In 2015, Mahmoud's family can no longer stay in Aleppo, Syria after their apartment building is destroyed. They take off in their car, with a fair amount of resources, but it's a long journey to Austria, and nothing about the trip is easy. In all three cases, loved ones are lost, but eventually parts of the family arrive in safer places. There are some nice tie-ins at the end of the book, as well as additional information about the history of the conflicts that propel these families away from their homelands.

Strengths: This was rather grim, but certainly a book that students today need in order to understand what is going on in the world. Gratz always does excellent research, and he doesn't over dramatize events. I found it particularly illuminating that Mahmoud's family was so well-to-do and had made fairly good plans to get out of the country; I guess I have a typical tendency to think of refugees of people who are forced to leave very quickly with no resources at all, which must sometimes be the case. Their use of smart phones to map their routes was especially interesting, and the father's sense of humor added a very human element to the story. The three narratives change back and forth but are easy to follow.

Weaknesses: Again, a bit grim. Younger readers need to know that there are some deaths, a baby who is given away in order to be saved from drowning, and a lot of violence.

What I really think: This would make a great class read, since some of the historical topics as well as the issue of forced migration might need some explanation for students to fully understand them.

Recommended by: Karen Yingling, Library Media Specialist, Ohio USA

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Three kids in different times, all have one goal and that is to SURVIVE. This story will have you sitting at the edge of your seat!
Through the trials the characters go through should invoke sympathy, empathy and compassion from the reader. With all the things going on in the world today children and adults need to read this book. By reading this book and placing yourself in someone else's shoes maybe you will develop and understanding of why people are fleeing their own countries. Acceptance, empathy, compassion and love for all humans is an essential tool to make this world a better place.
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