Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Yara's Spring

Saeed, Jamal and McKay, Sharon E. Yara's Spring
October 13th 2020 by Annick Press
E ARC provided by Netgalley

Yara and her younger brother Saad are in a refugee camp in Jordan in 2016, waiting to hear what their fate might be concerning relocation. We have a brief view of some of the difficulties of the camp before going back to Yara's life in Aleppo in 2011. Her parents and grandmother have a bakery, and her best friend, Shireen and twin brother Ali live nearby. Yara delivers bread to some customers, goes to swimming classes, and is glad to see her Uncle Sami when he visits from Damascus. Things are becoming difficult, however, and before long, Shireen's father is arrested as a political dissident. This means that her mother, Roja, loses her job as a university professor, and it becomes difficult to feed her family. She takes in sewing, and Yara's family helps out as they can. Unfortunately, when their neighborhood is bombed, Yara suffers tragic losses. She and Saad are taken in by Roja, but have no identity papers to use to leave the country. When things worsen, Yara and Shireen go to the ruins of Yara's house to dig up a box with the papers, and find a cache of money and jewelry as well. When Yara's Nana reappears after going missing in the bombing, plans are made to leave the country. Nana has contracted with a man called Rifa'at who has some connections to help them get to Jordan, although they are all convinced they must first travel to Damascus to find Uncle Sami. Roja decides to stay behind, but sends Shireen and Ali with Nana. It's a treacherous journey, and Yara learns more about her grandmother's past. Eventually, Yara does make it to the refugee camp, and we find that two churches in Kingston, Ontario have accepted her application to go there.
Strengths: McKay also wrote Thunder over Kandahar (2010) about life in Afghanistan, and it's great to see her team up with an #ownvoices writer, Jamal Saeed, to write an excellent tales with gripping details about Syria. It's so important that my students not only know the difficulties that people in war torn countries face, but that they also realize that many of these people have lives so similar to their own before they are thrown into confusion and devastation by war. The inclusion of Nana, who had previously lived through political difficulties in the early 1980s, was especially interesting, and Yara and Shireen's friendship added another interesting layer. I have been working on building a collection about how the Arab Spring affected children, and this was another great book on that topic.
Weaknesses: There were a few details about the camps that made me worry that this would be for much older readers (boys call Yara a prostitute), but these were not too explicit, and the rest of the book had a lot of similarity to Senzai's Escape from Aleppo.
What I really think: I would love to see these authors write a book about children in a refugee camp, or a continuation of this story from Saad's perspective as he deals with his selective mutism in his new home in Canada. Definitely purchasing.

Ms. Yingling

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