Tag Archives: refugees

The Best We Could Do by Thi Bui

The Best We Could Do: An Illustrated Memoir by Thi Bui. March 7, 2017. Abrams Books, 336 p. ISBN: 9781419718779.  Int Lvl: AD; Rdg Lvl: AD; Lexile: 600.

An intimate and poignant graphic novel portraying one family’s journey from war-torn Vietnam, from debut author Thi Bui.

This beautifully illustrated and emotional story is an evocative memoir about the search for a better future and a longing for the past. Exploring the anguish of immigration and the lasting effects that displacement has on a child and her family, Bui documents the story of her family’s daring escape after the fall of South Vietnam in the 1970s, and the difficulties they faced building new lives for themselves.

At the heart of Bui’s story is a universal struggle: While adjusting to life as a first-time mother, she ultimately discovers what it means to be a parent—the endless sacrifices, the unnoticed gestures, and the depths of unspoken love. Despite how impossible it seems to take on the simultaneous roles of both parent and child, Bui pushes through. With haunting, poetic writing and breathtaking art, she examines the strength of family, the importance of identity, and the meaning of home.

In what Pulitzer Prize–winning novelist Viet Thanh Nguyen calls “a book to break your heart and heal it,” The Best We Could Do brings to life Thi Bui’s journey of understanding, and provides inspiration to all of those who search for a better future while longing for a simpler past.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Strong language; Racial taunts; War; Violence; Realistic depiction of childbirth; Stillbirth; Child abuse

 

Reviews

Library Journal – web only (January 27, 2017)
[DEBUT] With her debut graphic memoir, Bui captivates readers with her recounting of the struggle her family faced as they emigrated from Vietnam to the United States after the war, leaving behind their way of life. Now, as a new mother, Bui starts to contemplate her parents’ lives and what events led them to their current situation. The narrative then rewinds to the author’s childhood in California and her desire to understand why her parents fled their home in the Seventies. Spanning her own experience as well as that of her parents in the French-occupied and ultimately war-torn country, this oral retelling takes readers down the path of three generations, presenting a firsthand glimpse into the history of Vietnam. Uncovering deeper insight into her heritage, which resonates for her as an adult, Bui creates a seamless transition between past and present, making for an accessible read, along with beautiful artwork that draws us in with every panel. Verdict Be prepared to take your heart on an emotional roller-coaster journey with this thought-provoking account that completely satisfies as the story comes full circle. Highly recommended for teens and adults; an excellent choice for book clubs.-Laura McKinley, Huntington P.L., NY

Publishers Weekly (December 5, 2016)
Tracing her family’s journey to the United States and their sometimes-uneasy adaptation to American life, Bui’s magnificent memoir is not unique in its overall shape, but its details are: a bit of blood sausage in a time of famine, a chilly apartment, a father’s sandals contrasted with his son’s professional shoes. The story opens with the birth of Bui’s son in New York City, and then goes back to Vietnam to trace the many births and stillbirths of her parents, and their eventual boat journey to the U.S. In excavating her family’s trauma through these brief, luminous glimpses, Bui transmutes the base metal of war and struggle into gold. She does not spare her loved ones criticism or linger needlessly on their flaws. Likewise she refuses to flatten the twists and turns of their histories into neat, linear narratives. She embraces the whole of it: the misery of the Vietnam War, the alien land of America, and the liminal space she occupies, as the child with so much on her shoulders. In this mélange of comedy and tragedy, family love and brokenness, she finds beauty. (Mar.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

About the Author

Thi Bui was born in Vietnam and immigrated to the United States as a child. She studied art and law and thought about becoming a civil rights lawyer, but became a public school teacher instead. Bui lives in Berkeley, California, with her son, her husband, and her mother. The Best We Could Do is her debut graphic novel.

Her website is www.thibui.com.

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City of Saints & Thieves by Natalie C. Anderson

City of Saints & Thieves by Natalie C. Anderson. January 24, 2017. G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers, 432 p. ISBN: 9780399547584.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo meets Gone Girl in this enthralling murder mystery set in Kenya.

In the shadows of Sangui City, there lives a girl who doesn’t exist. After fleeing the Congo as refugees, Tina and her mother arrived in Kenya looking for the chance to build a new life and home. Her mother quickly found work as a maid for a prominent family, headed by Roland Greyhill, one of the city’s most respected business leaders. But Tina soon learns that the Greyhill fortune was made from a life of corruption and crime. So when her mother is found shot to death in Mr. Greyhill’s personal study, she knows exactly who’s behind it.

With revenge always on her mind, Tina spends the next four years surviving on the streets alone, working as a master thief for the Goondas, Sangui City’s local gang. It’s a job for the Goondas that finally brings Tina back to the Greyhill estate, giving her the chance for vengeance she’s been waiting for. But as soon as she steps inside the lavish home, she’s overtaken by the pain of old wounds and the pull of past friendships, setting into motion a dangerous cascade of events that could, at any moment, cost Tina her life. But finally uncovering the incredible truth about who killed her mother—and why—keeps her holding on in this fast-paced nail-biting thriller.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Strong language; Violence; Strong sexual themes; Gangs

 

Author Interview

Reviews

Booklist starred (January 1, 2017 (Vol. 113, No. 9))
Grades 8-11. “If you’re going to be a thief, the first thing you need to know is that you don’t exist.” So begins Congo refugee and Kenyan street gang member Tina’s gripping narrative, a wonderfully twisted puzzle of a murder mystery. Six years ago, Tina’s mother, maid to wealthy Mr. Greyhill, was murdered in his study. Eleven-year-old Tina got her half sister Kiki (Mr. Greyhill’s daughter) a scholarship at a convent school and then disappeared into the streets of Sangui City, where she joined the Goonda gang. Here Tina refined her skills as a thief while carefully plotting revenge on Greyhill, whom she has good reason to believe murdered her mother. Now 17, Tina is ready to put the plan into action by blackmailing and then killing her mother’s assassin. Anderson, who has worked with refugee relief and development in Africa, addresses issues of race, class, and gender as intrinsic plot elements. Tina’s gay friend BoyBoy is an especially sympathetic and compelling character who refuses to join the Goondas, yet lends his computer skills to their many heists. Greyhill’s son Michael, Tina’s childhood playmate, is now both her captor and maybe her love interest, highlighting the tremendous gap between wealth and poverty and the resulting power dynamics. The nicely twisted climax is wholly believable, and readers will be sorry to leave Tina, whose fierce loyalty to family drives her courageous actions.

Kirkus Reviews (December 1, 2016)
Anderson’s debut mystery novel features a Congolese teenager bent on revenge.In fictional Sangui City, Kenya, lives 16-year-old Tina, a black Congolese refugee. Tina has two purposes in life: take care of her mixed-race half sister, Kiki, and avenge their mother’s death. Five years ago, Mama was murdered, and Tina believes the culprit can only be the rich and corrupt Mr. Greyhill, her mother’s white former employer and lover. To survive, Tina has embedded herself as the wiliest of thieves within the ranks of the Goondas, a powerful gang in the city. After a Goonda heist on Mr. Greyhill goes wrong, Tina finds herself in cahoots with his mixed-race son, Michael, to find the true murderer. Michael wants to prove it wasn’t his father, and Tina goes along with it so that she can resume her plan for vengeance. Along with her black tech genius partner in crime, Boyboy, they find themselves in the depths of Congo, looking for answers that could cost them their lives. The narrative is guided by Tina’s rules for survival, which reveal a strong yet vulnerable character. While much of the novel is fictionalized, it exposes both the very real corruption and greed of the mining industry in Congo and the women who pay the price. The novel is peppered with Swahili words and phrases, and Anderson makes an effort to paint a picture of the country. A story full of twists and turns, proving nothing is ever as black and white as it may seem. (glossary) (Thriller. 12-16)

About the Author

Natalie C. Anderson is a writer and international development professional living in Boston, Massachusetts. She has spent the last decade working with NGOs and the UN on refugee relief and development, mainly in Africa. She was selected as the 2014-2015 Associates of the Boston Public Library Children’s Writer in Residence, where she wrote her debut novel, City of Saints and Thieves.

Her website is www.nataliecanderson.com.

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City of Saints and Thieves on Amazon

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City of Saints and Thieves Publisher Page

Hidden by Miriam Halahmy

Hidden by Miriam Halahmy. Septmber 15, 2016. Holiday House, 224 p. ISBN: 9780823436941.  Int Lvl: 5-8; Rdg Lvl: 4.8; Lexile: 820.

For fourteen-year-old Alix, life on Hayling Island off the coast of England seems insulated from problems such as war, terrorism and refugees. But then, one day at the beach, Alix and her friend Samir pull a drowning man out of the incoming tide. Mohammed, an illegal immigrant and student, has been tortured by rebels in Iraq for helping the allied forces and has spent all his money to escape. Desperate not to be deported, Mohammed’s destiny now lies in Alix’shands, and she is faced with the biggest moral dilemma of her life.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Mild language; Violence; Underage drinking; Smoking; Racism and racist epithets; Harsh realities of war

 

Reviews

Kirkus Reviews (September 15, 2016)
A British teen comes face to face with anti-immigrant xenophobia. It’s 2007. Alexandra “Alix” Miller is nearly 15 and admittedly “Number One Nerd in Year 10” when she diverts town bully Terrence Bellows from harassing Samir, an Iraqi refugee new to her school. But Terrence isn’t alone: many people on Hayling Island say and do Islamophobic things, from Alix’s classmates and her boss to her best friend; even Alix herself thinks of Samir and his brother, Naazim, as “foreign,” worries they might be “terrorists,” and jokes that Samir’s a “suicide bomber.” Alix’s opinions—and Samir’s affection—shift as they rescue Mohammed, an undocumented Iraqi immigrant escaping torture and seeking asylum, from drowning and hypothermia, then strive to keep him safe. Unfortunately, in her efforts to bring understanding to Britain’s immigrant crisis and the country’s role in the Iraq War, Halahmy (whose husband is Iraqi) indulges in other stereotypes, such as the broken English of Samir’s Chinese neighbor. Even more unfortunate in a book specifically about cultural awakening, only people of color are described explicitly; all other characters, including narrator Alix, are assumed to be white, an assumption that undercuts the book’s effectiveness and limits its reach. While Alix eventually works to address her cultural cluelessness, her proprietary actions with Mohammed have a whiff of the white savior about them. This all-too-timely book means well, but it may not be the age-of-Brexit corrective it clearly wishes to be. (Historical fiction. 12-16)

School Library Journal (August 1, 2016)
Gr 6-9-When teenager Alix and her new friend, Samir, see a man tossed out of a speeding boat into the churning waters off the coast of their small English island, they leap into the strong current to pull out the battered man. When they realize he’s an Iraqi refugee seeking asylum, Alix is hesitant to help him, but Samir-who himself was once a refugee fleeing Iraq-begs Alix to help harbor the stranger. Over the course of the novel, Alix confronts her own perceptions and prejudices, as well as those of her friends, family, and neighbors. Her development from a self-involved child to a broad-thinking and selfless young adult is gradual and realistic, with Alix making plenty of mistakes-and actually learning from them-along the way. The writing is simple and straightforward, and though it won’t challenge strong readers, this novel will appeal to younger teens as well as to reluctant readers. VERDICT An engaging, fast-paced story that pushes teens to consider all sides of the immigration issue, this is a great choice for middle school libraries or for struggling readers.-Leighanne Law, Scriber Lake High School, WA

About the Author

Miriam Halahmy is a novelist, a former special needs educator and a poet. She writes for adults, teens and children and has published five novels, three poetry collections and many short stories. Miriam is inspired by social and political issues in both contemporary lives and in the recent past. Her writing highlights the dilemmas ordinary young people are often faced with and how they tackle the difficulties in their lives. Miriam is married with two children and two grandchildren. She lives in London, England but she loves to travel and has a great interest in different cultures and languages.

Her website is www.miriamhalahmy.com.

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Hidden on Amazon

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The Girl Who Escaped ISIS by Farida Khalaf

The Girl Who Escaped ISIS: This Is My Story by Farida Khalaf with Andrea C. Hoffmann. July 19, 2016. Atria Books, 240 p. ISBN: 9781501131714.  Int Lvl: AD; Rdg Lvl: AD; Lexile: 720.

A young Yazidi woman was living a normal, sheltered life in northern Iraq during the summer of 2014 when her entire world was upended: her village was attacked by ISIS. All of the men in her town were killed and the women were taken into slavery.

This is Farida Khalaf’s story.

In unprecedented detail, Farida describes her world as it was—at nineteen, she was living at home with her brothers and parents, finishing her schooling and looking forward to becoming a math teacher—and the hell it became. Held in a slave market in Syria and sold into the homes of several ISIS soldiers, she stubbornly attempts resistance at every turn. Farida is ultimately brought to an ISIS training camp in the middle of the desert, where she plots an against-all-odds escape for herself and five other girls.

A riveting firsthand account of life in captivity and a courageous flight to freedom, this astonishing memoir is also Farida’s way of bearing witness, and of ensuring that ISIS does not succeed in crushing her spirit. Her bravery, resilience, and hope in the face of unimaginable violence will fascinate and inspire.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Strong sexual themes; Criminal culture

 

About the Author

Farida Khalaf is from the Yazidi community of the small village of Kocho, Iraq. Farida was nineteen years old and preparing for her last year in school when ISIS descended upon her village, and she was sold into slavery. After making a daring escape, she reunited with her mother and her brothers in an Iraqi refugee camp and was granted asylum in Germany in 2015.

Andrea C. Hoffmann is an author and a journalist. She specializes in the Middle East and the situation of women in Muslim countries. She lives in Berlin, Germany.  Her website is http://andreachoffmann.com.

Teacher Resources

Questions about ISIS

ISIS: Teaching the News Lesson Plans

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