Escape from Aleppo is one of those books that pick you up when you’re least expecting it and thrills you while warming your heart and also enlightening you. I am so happy to see this book come to the middle grade world as I feel like I would have learned so much from it when I was younger.
Nadia stands at the center of attention in her parents’ elegant dining room. This is the best day of my life, she thinks. Everyone is about to sing “Happy Birthday,” when her uncle calls from the living room, “Baba, brothers, you need to see this.” Reluctantly, she follows her family into the other room. On TV, a reporter stands near an overturned vegetable cart on a dusty street. Beside it is a mound of smoldering ashes. The reporter explains that a vegetable vendor in the city of Tunis burned himself alive, protesting corrupt government officials who have been harassing his business. Nadia frowns.
It is December 17, 2010: Nadia’s twelfth birthday and the beginning of the Arab Spring. Soon anti-government protests erupt across the Middle East and, one by one, countries are thrown into turmoil. As civil war flares in Syria and bombs fall across Nadia’s home city of Aleppo, her family decides to flee to safety. Inspired by current events, this novel sheds light on the complicated situation in Syria that has led to an international refugee crisis, and tells the story of one girl’s journey to safety.
(Disclaimer: I received this free book from Netgalley. This has not impacted my review which is unbiased and honest.)
So I think what captivated me about Escape from Aleppo is Senzai’s ability to grapple with these serious topics while not letting the book drag or be too sad. I think that’s simpler than it is and harder than it sounds. This is a middle grade book. I don’t normally read them, but this one didn’t feel like how some of my other experience have been. Escape from Aleppo was a breath of fresh air.
Senzai mixes little snippets of history, facts about the conflict in Aleppo, and the history of Nadia all together. It is this amazingly cohesive mixture that rolls off your tongue. Let me just stop this review to say, if you’re looking for profound touching MG books with rich characters stop what you’re reading and go get this book. It is a wonderful historical fiction that not only sheds light on the history but also on ourselves.
Nadia, and all the other characters around her, are really fantastic. They not only serve a purpose, but their are rich and rounded. They never fall into their role too much and instead offer up memories and pieces of themselves. I fell in love with each and every single one of them. And Senzai never lets us draw up strict black and white border lines.
The balance between the ‘mundane’ pre-conflict, like math class, and post-conflict is a subject that Senzai explores with grace. It’s images of childhood that are juxtaposed with violence, loss, and conflict. But it never get bogged down by the loss, instead moving us forwards. At the same time it’s a fabulous story about the bonds we create when we need help and the resilience of the human spirit.
I need really great MG read recommendations clearly.
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