Wednesday, July 28, 2021

The World Between: Based on a True Refugee Story

Trebincevic, Kenan and Shapiro, Susan. The World Between: Based on a True Refugee Story 
July 27th 2021 by Clarion Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Kenan is a tween living in BrĨko, Yugoslavia in the early 1990s. His family is Muslim, and while tensions are rising among religious factions, his father owns a popular local gym and feels that it is safe to stay. Kenan loves to play football (US soccer), but as the political situation worsens, he finds himself alienated from his teammates and friends at school. When asked if he is Bosnian, Yugoslavian, or Muslim, he replies "My country is Yugoslavia. I'm from the Bosnian Republic. My religion is Muslim." For Kenan, it's that simple, and his family just wants to continue to live in peace. This of course, is not feasible. The family (parents and older brother Edin) is lucky enough to make their way to Vienna, where they have some relatives. It's not easy doubling up with another family, not having any space or privacy, and having to always be very quiet so as not to disturb their hosts. There are many refugees, and while the government is giving them a stipend, they don't necessarily want the refugees to take jobs from the locals, so they aren't allowed to get jobs. They apply to go to other countries, and eventually get clearance to go to the US. Kenan hopes to be in New York City or California, but the family is sent to a small town in Connecticut where they live with a woman named Barbara. She's welcoming enough, but after the family moves out, they find that she was taking money and gifts the family was given and keeping it for herself. The pastor who helps the family, Don, is much more helpful. Living with him and his wife is much better, and Kenan starts to make friends at his school and starts to enjoy life in the US. His parents are still looking for employment, and when the father gets a job, the family must move to a town nearby. Kenan is angry, but realizes that he can still keep in contact with his best friend, and he slowly starts to establish his new, US identity. 
Strengths: While it's hard to remember all the details of the moves Kenan and his family have to make, they do propel the story forward very quickly, which is perfect for middle grade readers. It also shows that leaving a country isn't a one step process. Even though the author came to the US a long time ago, I imagine that many refugee stories have similar trajectories. The details about living arrangements, experiences in school, and family tensions are all valuable for readers who have not living through this kind of situation to understand and appreciate. Kenan's interest in soccer has added appeal; many of my students from immigrant families are HUGE soccer fans, so this will be a good hook to get them to pick up the book. There aren't quite as many middle grade books that involve soccer. 
Weaknesses: While it would have slowed the story down a bit, some of my readers might benefit from a bit more information about the details of moving from country to country. It makes sense that those aren't there, however, since someone's Kenan's age probably wouldn't have understood everything that was going on. 
What I really think: Definitely purchasing, and I think that this will be a book frequently on display that will never make it back to the shelves. Surprisingly, the only book I have about this period of history is Mead's Adem's Cross from 1996.

1 comment:

  1. Kenan's family's discovery about Barbara reminds me of the evacuation story I just read where the children were not getting enough to eat, then found the host family was being paid to support them yet using the resources for their own children.