FICTION

The Boy at the Back of the Class

Delacorte. Aug. 2019. 320p. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781984850782.
COPY ISBN
Gr 4-6–When a new boy named Ahmed joins Alexa’s class at her London school, all of the students have questions: Why does the new boy never go to lunch or recess with the other kids, and why doesn’t he talk to anyone? Everyone has different theories, but when Alexa and her friends are waiting after school to give Ahmed some fruit and other small gifts, they overhear two adults saying that Ahmed is a refugee and no one speaks his language. Gradually, as they befriend Ahmed and speak to him through the assistant the school hires to translate, they piece together his story: how he and his family escaped from the bombs in Syria, how his little sister drowned in the sea, and how he was separated from his parents and doesn’t know how to find them again. When Alexa learns that the United Kingdom is about to close its borders to refugees, she and her friends embark on a bold and dangerous plan to persuade the Queen to intervene on Ahmed’s behalf. Filled with engaging characters and a compelling plot, this moving novel adroitly portrays the plight of refugees from Syria and other parts of the world. In her quest to help Ahmed, Alexa is forced to confront not only the school bully but also the bigotry of her neighbor and other adults, some of whom imply that Alexa herself and her Indonesian mother don’t belong. She also learns that her own grandmother was a refugee during World War II who not only evaded the Nazis but helped others escape as well. Information about refugees and ways to help are included, as well as discussion questions and an author’s note explaining how the novel was inspired by the true story of Alan Kurdi, a three-year-old refugee who drowned during his family’s escape across the Aegean Sea.
VERDICT This moving and timely debut novel tells an enlightening, empowering, and ultimately hopeful story about how compassion and a willingness to speak out can change the world

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