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A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Katherine Marsh's book Nowhere Boy examines themes of racism, fear of foreigners, terrorism, and global politics through the lens of 13-year-old American Max's and 14-year-old Syrian Ahmed's experiences. Big topics like fear of deportation, grieving loved ones lost because of war, and the triumph of beating the system mix with everyday middle school issues like having a mean sister and fitting in at school. There are explicit details of bombings (including those in Syria that killed Ahmed's mother and sisters) and descriptions of terrorist attacks in Paris in 2015 and in Brussels, Belgium, in 2016. Ahmed's nightmares feature corpses, and images of refugee children washing up on beaches are described.
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What's the story?
In NOWHERE BOY, a teen named Ahmed is escaping his war-torn country by boat, trying to reach the coast of Greece so that he and his father can enter Europe. Meanwhile, an American kid named Max has relocated to Brussels, Belgium, with his family, and has just been informed by his parents that he will not go to the English-speaking school that his sister is attending. He's going to be enrolled in the local French-speaking school without knowing any French. On top of that, he's going to be repeating sixth grade. Unhappily, he starts his school year with a leaky fountain pen and zero friends. Meanwhile, Ahmed is struggling to find a place to sleep in a new country. Their worlds are about to collide in a story of friendship that knows no borders.
Is it any good?
Author Katherine Marsh expertly interweaves urgent political topics and exciting adventure in this compelling story of two very different kinds of immigrants. Max is an American teen whose parents took jobs in Belgium and moved the family there. Ahmed is an utterly helpless teen refugee without a country. They are both grappling with an age-old question: Where do displaced people belong? Together, they courageously stand up for human rights, even if they break the rules. Their friendship is based on need, but their devotion is based on human kindness. The problems in Nowhere Boy are real in the truest sense of the word, as the plight of refugees and immigrants are in the news constantly.
The only flaw in this engrossing story is that the adults are not very relatable. Ahmed's father is an exception, but Max's parents are distant and two-dimensional, and the teachers and other adults have agendas and float about like ghosts. Even real-life, self-involved parents have some characteristics that make them human. Max's parents don't feel real, which steals a little shine from the resolution at the end of the book. Still, Nowhere Boy succeeds by striking important chords of compassion, friendship, and hope in troubled times.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the current events in Nowhere Boy. How does war affect people near and far? Is Ahmed's story unusual? What do you think of refugees and immigrants escaping a country? Where do people with no home belong?
How is terrorism portrayed by news and media? Do you feel that one ethnic group of people are responsible for terrorist acts? Does it mean that all of those people are bad? How does Max struggle with his prejudices? What are your prejudices and where do they come from?
How have things changed regarding immigrants and refugees around the world? This book references the Jewish refugees from World War II who escaped Nazism. What are the arguments for a country accepting refugees? What are the arguments for refusing refugees? What are your views?
- Author: Katherine Marsh
- Genre: Adventure
- Topics: Adventures, Brothers and Sisters, Friendship, Great Boy Role Models, Great Girl Role Models, Middle School, Misfits and Underdogs
- Book type: Fiction
- Publisher: Roaring Brook Press
- Publication date: August 7, 2018
- Publisher's recommended age(s): 8 - 18
- Number of pages: 368
- Available on: Nook, Hardback, iBooks, Kindle
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