Boy, Everywhere

Authored by A M Dassu
Published by Old Barn Books

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This debut novel is the harrowing story of a 13-year-old Syrian boy, Sami, and the journey he embarks on with his family when his comfortable life in Damascus is shattered by war. We see all the attempts and setbacks as he morphs from a confident, carefree teenager interested in football and films into an unwanted refugee simply trying to survive in a hostile environment.

One of the strengths of the story is the clarity of Sami’s language. He is naive and hot-headed but we see him and his family try to hold on to their values and dignity when put in intolerable situations. From the heartbreaking moment his grandmother refuses to flee with them. She says to Sami’s father ‘Tarek, I don’t want to come. This is my land – its soil is in my body, its water runs through my veins. I was born here and I will die here. I want my bones laid next to your father. Not in some western country.‘  Here it is emphasised that the decision to flee is not made easily and not made by everyone.

Soon afterwards we see Sami’s horror at seeing the realities of a Libyan refugee camp from the roadside: ‘It went on for miles. The white tents looked sturdy, but a lot of the blue and green ones were hovering at angles, as if they might collapse with a strong gust of wind. I saw children playing in the mud and dust, all barefoot and some topless. Their hair and skin caked in dirt. I found the sight of them shocking, but I could not look away. This was a refugee camp, like I’d seen on the news.’  Yet there is worse to come as the family witnesses people drowning ‘The dinghy had capsized and its passengers were all in the sea, their arms waving at us as they thrashed around in the water, screaming for help. There were so many – there had to be a hundred.’ Sami’s father and some of the other men yell at the man in charge to save some but he refuses ‘No safe. Greek coastguard find them… No worry.’ It is clear that Sami has been changed forever by the journey and yet he still needs to pick himself up and carry on.

This is such an important and timely novel and deserves attention. A. M. Dassu gives voice to the refugee experience in a powerful story which respects the difficult decisions that every family seeking refuge has to make. Boy, Everywhere would make a good Read Aloud text in Year 5 or Year 6 or it could be used for guided reading as discussions around the experiences in the story would break down stereotypes and build empathy. It also belongs in every primary and secondary school library. There have been quite a few recent releases focusing on the refugee experience but this one stands out.