Escape from Syria

Escape from Syria, written by Samya Kullab and illustrated and colored by Jackie Roche and Mike Freiheit, is a graphic novel following the journey of a girl and her family from their home in Syria to a refugee camp in Lebanon to resettlement in Canada.

When the novel opens, Amina is returning home from school, where she got an A on a test, thinking about what she wants to be when she grows up. We don’t find out, however, because that’s when the bombing begins.

Her immediate family is spared injury, but their home has been destroyed. “After the explosion, Dad said all was lost. We had to leave.” They gather what they can, and Amina is a little reassured when her father tells her that “it will only be for a little while.”

The novel then jumps back and forth in time, showing snippets of their life under Assad (fearful) and their resettlement in Canada (difficult) while telling the story of their journey after the explosions in Aleppo.

I like that while giving a big-picture, comprehensive view of what a refugee’s journey might look like, this book does have a focus—the reality of life in the refugee camps. Among other things, it describes

  • the presence of loan sharks in the camps who take advantage of people’s desperation, charging high interest rates and using paid muscle to enforce payment
  • families encouraging girls as young as nine to marry, in an effort to protect them from sexual harassment
  • the exorbitant visa fees charged by the Lebanese government (A $200 fee to renew visas each year in Lebanon meant that many stopped renewing their visas, lost their legal residence status, and had to keep a low profile. It also meant that others would risk crossing the Syrian border in order to re-enter Lebanon and renew for free.)
  • the reluctance of many to go too far away from Syria (They hoped the war in Syria would be over soon and they would be able to return.)

This book masterfully combines a humanizing story with enough information to give readers a basic understanding of the situation. This is done in two ways. The first is the presence of maps and other visual guides throughout the text, and the second is a section of blind notes at the end of the book. These notes provide more information about some of the topics mentioned, including explanations of Arabic words, cultural notes, and detailed historical backgrounds.

I really enjoyed the art in this. It captures emotion really well, and in spite of the jumps in time, presents a clear and easy-to-follow narrative. I should warn readers that this book does depict some considerably graphic scenes, including a row of heads on spikes.

I highly recommend this book for anyone looking for an introduction to the Syrian refugee crisis.

Find it here: GoodreadsAmazon | Book Depository

Blackout! by Sumayyah Hussein

Blackout! by Sumayyah Hussein (and illustrated by Majd Massijeh) is an early chapter book that talks about the Syrian refugee crisis in a way kids 5–9 can understand. Heartwarming and well-written, this story also touches on empathy, privilege, gratitude, and community. View Post

Sea Prayer by Khaled Hosseini

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No words to describe this stunning new book from Khaled Hosseini. Inspired by the Syrian refugee crisis, this book is a prayer from a father for his son as they wait to board a boat. The writing is as heartbreakingly beautiful as the illustrations are evocative.

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It begins with the father’s memories of the Syria before: “the creek where your uncles and I built a thousand boyhood dams.”

. . . moves into the reality of this generation’s Syria: “You know a bomb crater can be made into a swimming hole.”

. . . and ends with the sea: “how vast, how indifferent. How powerless I am to protect you from it.”

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It’s a book that’s not easy to classify. Perhaps “an illustrated poem inspired by true events and intended for adults” is the closest I can get. In any case, it’s one of my favorite books of the year.

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Part of the proceeds go to UNHCR, so go get your copy now.

Review—Escape from Aleppo by N.H. Senzai

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Escape from Aleppo is a middle grade novel by N.H. Senzai about one girl’s escape from the Syrian city of Aleppo when fighting reaches the city.

The novel opens with Nadia being awoken in the early morning; her family are finally leaving the city for good. She hasn’t left her house since she was injured by shrapnel from a barmeela that exploded nearby while she was on line for bread. As Nadia hesitates before exiting the building, a bomb goes off, separating her from the rest of her family. They reluctantly move on, and she spends the rest of the novel trying to make her way through the city to the Turkish border where her father is waiting for her. View Post

Review—Sadia by Colleen Nelson

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This YA novel is a heart-warming story about a group of female Muslim freshmen in a Canadian high school. Sadia, Nazreen, and Amira are busy figuring out how they fit into the world. The novel is told from Sadia’s point of view: she is strong, empathetic, and loves basketball. The rules for the tournament might mean she might not get to play in her hijab, and she doesn’t want to take it off. Nazreen is Sadia’s best friend and seems to be growing apart from her—hanging out with a new friend, constantly talking about boys, and de-jabbing at school. The new girl Amira, has just arrived as a refugee from Syria, and Sadia is trying to help her adjust. Sadia is about making friends and banding together to bring about social change. By the end of the story, all of the characters are working to change the world. View Post