Escape from Aleppo

Book review by
Mary Eisenhart, Common Sense Media
Escape from Aleppo Book Poster Image
Gripping, moving tale of Syrian teen fleeing war-torn city.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Packed with information that will be new to most young Western readers, from regional history and its religious/political complexities to Syrian culture, food, and fun. One episode deals with a group of scholars trying frantically to preserve priceless antiquities from destruction, and a lot of detail about some of the works. In one scene, Nadia's memory of one of her brother's "science experiments" helps the kids build a small bomb to create a diversion and save a companion.

Positive Messages

Strong messages of family, loyalty, determination, courage, and kindness. Also respect for history and culture.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Nadia, 14 for most of the story and younger in flashbacks, is relatable and cheer-worthy as she and her new friends make their way through the ruined, dangerous city. With her happy, safe life gone forever, she often looks beyond her own troubles to help others, who in turn help her also. Her extended family, seen mostly in flashback, is devoted, loving, and engaged with the world. Kids and adults she meets along the way show kindness, courage, and unselfishness. As a small child, Nadia swipes a bottle of nail polish in a salon, but the salon owner tells her to keep it.

Violence & Scariness

Not much gore, but oppressive, out-of-control violence rules the day. Weapons, destruction, atrocities, and mayhem are everywhere, and many people lose life, limb, and/or home to the violence. Nadia bears scars and shrapnel from a bomb; her uncle is arrested, tortured, and killed by the government; a young boy has lost his grandparents to a bombing.

Language

Some guerillas call other fighting groups "bastards." Another refers to a type of weapon as "homemade hell cannons."

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Escape from Aleppo, by acclaimed author N.H. Senzai (Shooting Kabul) is the story of 14-year-old Nadia, who in 2013 flees her home in war-torn Syria and heads for Turkey, only to be separated from the others when a bomb explodes. Injured and forced to make her way alone, she connects with various children and adults trying to get to safety and deal with a world in which, in one character's words, "Thugs, our country has been overrun by ruthless thugs. From all sides." Danger, death, and destruction are everywhere, but so are courage, kindness, and love. There's a wealth of ancient and modern-day Middle Eastern culture, a crash course on the current troubles in Syria and the long history behind them, and a lot of political discussion by adult characters, which will delight some readers and bore others.

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What's the story?

After enduring years of gunfire, bombardment, death squads, and more, 14-year-old Nadia's once-prosperous Syrian family makes its ESCAPE FROM ALEPPO. But just as they're leaving, a bomb explodes, separating them and leaving Nadia injured and alone. As she struggles to avoid danger, get to Turkey, and find her family, she joins Basel, a younger boy, and Mazen, an old bookseller with a cart and a faithful donkey. Making their perilous way out of deserted, bombed-out Aleppo, they meet many scary characters, but also many others trying to do something positive and save what they can of Syria's ancient culture. Flashbacks tell how the country's conflicts began, and how it affected the lives of regular people caught between warring forces.

Is it any good?

N.H. Senzai's tale of a teen fleeing Syria in 2013 offers plenty of heart, courage, and poignant moments conveying what it's like to have your life completely destroyed by forces beyond your control. Some readers will be fascinated by the wealth of history, culture, and in-depth discussion of how the Arab Spring unfolded across the Middle East, while others may be a bit overwhelmed. With an appealing heroine (and her cat) and a lot of positive messages about family, courage, and kindness, Escape from Aleppo is a good bet for kids who like current events and multicultural stories -- and also fans of dystopian stories, with its setting to rival postapocalyptic landscapes.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how Escape from Aleppo helps you understand the conflict in Syria and how events there affect real people. Does reading stories like this change how you see events on the news?

  • Do you recognize any of the historic characters and stories described here with their Arabic names that you may know better by their Westernized ones?

  • If your family had to flee your home and go to a different place, how would you feel? What would you take with you?

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