- Nowhere Boy by Katherine Marsh
Trade ed. ISBN 978-1-250-30757-6 $16.99
E-book ed. ISBN 978-1-250-30758-3 $9.99
Reviewed from galleys R* Gr. 6-10
The war in Syria took the lives of Ahmed’s mother and siblings and drove him and his father out of Aleppo, first to Turkey and then into the sea, where he lost his father as well, before finally making it to Brussels alone as a refugee. Thirteen-year-old Max Howard, in Brussels for his father’s work, is struggling with the language (in French he’s known as Mex How-weird) and homesick for America. When Max discovers Ahmed hiding out in his basement, the two young boys quickly bond over superhero comics and a Magritte poster found on the wall. As anti-refugee sentiment spreads throughout Europe after the 2015 Paris attacks, it takes time for Ahmed to open up about himself, his former life in Aleppo, and all that he’s lost, just as Max spends a lot of time wondering if he’s doing the right thing keeping Ahmed hidden. Marsh evokes Anne Frank and Belgian hero Albert Jonnart—who hid a Jewish boy from the Gestapo a few houses down more than a half-century ago—to great effect to tell a complicated and realistic story of European geopolitics past and present. Max helps Ahmed forge paperwork to get him into school, and, briefly, the two experience some normalcy. Ahmed’s presence is revealed just as news arrives that his father is still alive in Hungary, and the two boys bravely set out to find him. The perilous journey, tempered by the striking realism of obstacles refugees face daily, ends with a father-son reunion in a Hungarian prison and Max returning home to a worried family and some difficult conversations about what’s right. A hopeful final scene suggests that Ahmed may find a home in the U.S. very close to the How-weirds, and an interview with Marsh provides some additional context for readers.