by Alan Gratz

Hardcover, 2017





Scholastic Press (2017), 352 pages


JOSEF is a Jewish boy living in 1930s Nazi Germany. With the threat of concentration camps looming, he and his family board a ship bound for the other side of the world . . . ISABEL is a Cuban girl in 1994. With riots and unrest plaguing her country, she and her family set out on a raft, hoping to find safety in America . . . MAHMOUD is a Syrian boy in 2015. With his homeland torn apart by violence and destruction, he and his family begin a long trek toward Europe . . . All three kids go on harrowing journeys in search of refuge. All will face unimaginable dangers -- from drownings to bombings to betrayals. But there is always the hope of tomorrow. And although Josef, Isabel, and Mahmoud are separated by continents and decades, shocking connections will tie their stories together in the end. This action-packed novel tackles topics both timely and timeless: courage, survival, and the quest for home.… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member alsparks324
Refugee is an awesome book of historical fiction that follows the lives of three refugees from three different historical eras. Josef is a Jew that has to flee from Nazi Germany in 1939. Isabel is trying to make it to America in 1994 after Castro allowed protesters to leave Cuba without fear of punishment. Mahmoud is fleeing Aleppo in modern times as the fighting continues between government and rebel forces. Each refugee is approximately 12 or 13 years old and faces leaving everything they own except for what they can carry. The stories are based on historical facts and some actual historical figures. The author does an incredible job of making the challenges faced by refugees come alive in frank and sometimes unpleasant ways. Planning on reading this book with my 8th grade history classes to blend together historical events and show that this still happens today. Loved it!… (more)
LibraryThing member berthashaver
Gratz documents the lives of three fictional families as they flee their homeland and seek a better life in a far away country. The chapters are intertwined, so the reader jumps from time period to time period. It was not distracting to me, but rather a way for me to see similarities in how history tends to repeat itself.

The events themselves appear to be historically accurate and I found myself aching for the families involved in their journey. Each of them went through three listed phases of the journey:

1 - Escape the horrors of their home - Young Josef and his family escaped Nazi Germany in 1939; Young Isabel escaped Castro's Cuba in 1994; Young Mahmoud escaped Aleppo, Syria in 2015.

2 - Try to survive the trek over land or sea to get to a new safe home - They each had illness, disease, dangers of the environment, death, as well as major and unrelentless obstacles to arrive at their new home. .Josef, Isabel, and Mahmoud, although young, were fighters and instrumental in helping their families Their struggles were real and the book portrays them vividly in a way a middle school reader could understand their plight in each of their times n history.

3 - The last part of the refugee is to start over in a new country. Often times they are a different religion. Their education, degrees or certifications they had in their home country may not be valid in the new country, so they have to start over - oven times with little or no money. They may not speak the same language or be accepted graciously in the country they are fleeing to.

I found it to be engaging and well written, but I found it to be a bit political when Gratz encourages the reader to donate to UNICEF who helps Syrian refugees. He made it a point to note that President Trump had banned Syrian refugees from entering the country, but did not give the reason.
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LibraryThing member asomers
The stories of three refugees from three different time periods are expertly woven together to create a memorable and poignant tale. This should be a must read for middle school social studies classes.
LibraryThing member Sgill17
This book is about 3 different, yet intertwining stories, at different points in time. It is about Josef, a Jewish child in Nazi Germany and how his family attempts to get into Cuba by ship, but is refused and sent back to Europe. It is about Isabel, a young girl from Cuba under Fidel Castro's control and how her family attempts to get to the United States by a home made boat. It is about Mahmoud a boy from Syria whose family must flee due to attacks on their city. Each child must try to escape with their family in hopes of gaining, not just a better life, but safety. This book is all about the horrors and realities of being a refugee in different points of history. In the end, the stories come together and relate to each other.… (more)
LibraryThing member rdwhitenack
Good story that details the lives of three refugees in three different contexts/time periods fleeing their home countries. Josef is a jewish 12 yr old that flees from Germany in 1939 headed for Cuba. Isabel is a 12yr old Cuban girl that tries to sail to America with her family and neighbors in 1994. Mahmoud is a 12yr Syrian boy that tries to escape the wraths of the Assad regime by fleeing toward Europe in hopes of making it to Germany. All 3 stories are handled well, and equally. Josef's story leads the way, but I felt the terror and heartache of Mahmoud's the most. All three stories end up tying together in a neat way in the end. Though the main characters are preteens, I think teen readers would identify and sympathize enough with the main characters to enjoy.… (more)
LibraryThing member lilibrarian
In alternating chapters, the stories of three teenaged refugees and their families are told. Josef is Jewish and trying to escape Nazi Germany. Mahmoud is Syrian, and his family is trying to escape their war-torn home. Isabel is Cuban, and if they stay, her father will be arrested for protesting against the government. All of them meet hardships and loss on their route and all of them are strangely interconnected.… (more)
LibraryThing member acargile
This novel is realistic fiction, looking at the plight of refugees from three different time periods.

You’ll meet Josef first. He is a Jewish boy in 1938 Germany. His father is taken one night and returned much later a changed man after being released from a concentration camp with orders to leave Germany immediately. Josef, his parents, and his little sister board the St. Louis, a ship bound for Cuba. The Cubans have agreed to take some Jews off the German’s hands. It’s an arduous journey with varying help on board. The twists and turns of this true historic journey on this ship will be wrenching for you to follow.

Isabel lives in Cuba in 1994 when Castro said that anyone who wants to leave Cuba can without worrying about being killed if caught. Isabel knows they must leave because her father will end up in jail. She solves their neighbor’s problem and gets her family passage on the neighbor’s small boat. Crossing the waters from Cuba to Florida is very dangerous, and most people die. Their trip is harrowing and heart-breaking.

The last person is Mahmoud, a Syrian refugee in 2015. Aleppo has been in the news a great deal over the last couple of years. The city has been hammered and torn apart. Mahmoud and his family finally determine that only death awaits them, so they need to leave. Their desire to get from Syria to Germany is difficult. If you watch the news, you’ll see their plight as familiar, but your view will be far more intimate and real.

Each story is to show the plight of refugees that never really changes. The author wants to make the point that only with help and caring for one another can we all make the world a better place even though we’ve never learned from the past. Country after country abuses its people until they are left with nothing except the desire to leave. Survival becomes difficult and every moment is fraught with despair and fear. If they find a safe haven, life must be completely remade--in another country with another language and a new set of customs. The plight of the refugee is hard; Alan Gratz wants to make it more personal with this novel.
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LibraryThing member courtneygiraldo
Refugee tells the tales of three children throughout history, fleeing their dangerous and warn torn countries in the hopes of finding safety elsewhere. Josef is fleeing Nazi occupied Berlin in 1939 with his parents and young sister aboard the St. Louis bound or Cuba. Mahmoud is on the run from war-torn Aleppo with his parents, brother, and infant sister. Isabel boards a rickety homemade boat with her parents, neighbors, and grandfather in the hopes of reaching el norte, Miami and life of freedom and possibility. Each child faces obstacles and setbacks throughout their journey. Devastating loss and unimaginably tough choices are forced upon these children, these families.

While not biographical accounts, they are based in fact and are bites and pieces of real stories, of real people, fleeing unimaginable horrors in the search for a better life and these stories were all heavy hitting. It was amazing how relatable each character was. While spanning different eras, different cultures, different struggles, their humanity bound them together. They each had hopes and dreams for a better life, love for their families, unimaginable courage in the face of adversity. They once had friends, played games, watched TV, played with toys and yet faced such terrifying obstacles to living the simple, happy lives they were meant to live.

One of the things I enjoyed most about the book was how each story was in some small part connected. It really highlighted the point that we are all, as a human race, connected in some way or fashion and the choices of our actions ripple throughout not only our life, but generations of lives. It is really quite powerful to sit back and look at in a novel which spans so many decades and generations. These stories were touching, and heartbreaking but most of all important. Mahmouds story is all too relevant in today's time. The United States continues to wag war on refugees in the political sphere and books like Refugee are important to putting a face, a story, an actual human being, to the elusive word, "refugee". Stories like Josefs, Isabels, or Mahmouds could be our own; we are only separated by good fortune of circumstance.
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LibraryThing member ChristianR
Refugee alternates between three children who are fleeing their countries with their families: Josef, a Jew escaping Germany in the 1930s; Isabel, a Cuban whose family is trying to reach Miami in 1994; and Mahmoud, a Syrian whose family has their sights on Germany in 2015. Even though it was written for middle grade children, the book does not sanitize these events. People in their families die or are lost over the course of the stories, which is heartbreaking but conveyed in an age appropriate manner. Each child's story is based on real people and events.… (more)
LibraryThing member tartanlibrary
Although separated by continents and decades, three teens embark on harrowing journeys in search of refuge.
LibraryThing member norinrad10
My 7 year old son and I recently completed this book after several months. He loved it and I found my eyes filled with tears several times.

The novel tracks 3 different families from three different countries in three different periods as circumstances at home force them to search for a country to live in. It shows that while refugees may appear to be different than us, they could easily be any one of us. None of the protagonist chose their plight. They did not choose to be forcefully removed from their homeland.

This is a good book for all ages, filled with reminders and insight that we all can benefit from.
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LibraryThing member dcoward
The stories of 3 different refugees in different time periods are interconnected. The ending of one was a real punch in the stomach, and totally surprised me. This was fantastic, but may be difficult for sensitive readers.
LibraryThing member ewyatt
The chapters rotate between the three main characters who are leaving their homes to seek safety and security. Joseph and his family are on the MS St. Louis trying to get to Cuba to escape the Nazis, Isabel and her family leave Cuba in 1994 on a boat trying to arrive in Miami. Mahmoud and his family try to get to Germany from Syria after the conflict in Aleppo destroys their home.
The journeys are fraught with danger and some tragedy. The three story lines are connected through the character of Ruthie. Although the time and places are different, the refugee experience has some commonalities.
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LibraryThing member PaperDollLady
I loved the way the three refugee stories of different time periods all come together and connect in the end. They are stories of heartbreak and triumph, and the audio naration of Michael Goldstrom (Joseff 1938-39), Kyla Garcia (Isabel 1994), and Mahmoud (Assaf Cohen) held me memerized.
LibraryThing member LibrarianRyan
First I would like to say I listened to this book. But man was it intense. We listened from beginning to end, strait through with no stops. You didn't’t want to stop. You just had to know what was going to happen, and if people would survive. This story is made up of three refugee tales.

First there is Josef, a Jew in Germany at the start of what will become WW2. His family is on the run. His father spent time in a concentration camp and was released on the promise that him, and his family will leave the country and never come back. But their tale is not an easy on, and will extend further, and across more miles than a person can fathom. It involves a cruise ship, a medical scare, and repercussions that some people still doubt.

Then there is Isabel. In 1994, her and her family try to take advantage of the Wet Foot, Dry Foot law of the US, that would allow any Cuban to set foot on american soil to stay and seek asylum. It was needed. Cuba was run by Castro who was slowly starving his people after treaties with other countries fell through.

Lastly there Mahmound, a Syrian refugee, in a war that is still going on. In this book his story takes place in 2015, but please note, its 2018 and this is still a reality. After his home is destroyed by missiles, his family decides to seek asylum in Germany. They are not a poor uneducated family, but a family who was saving their money, and only planned on leaving if it was absolutely necessary.

These stories are played out round robin through eight and a half hours of danger, hardship, and heart ache. You are glued to the story, praying for everyone to be safe, but knowing what you see on the news, that bad things will happen. The author has done such an excellent job invoking feelings of the readers. He uses the mindset and values of the time to help influence the very real actions of his characters. At the end of the story he even fills in that all these characters are based on real people throughout history. And it is all heartbreaking. Every single bit, but you want that heartbreak, and hope and pray for a miracle. Some may come, some may not, but you will need to read this for yourself to find out.
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LibraryThing member BillieBook
This is an instance where i think the words-on-a-page book might have been more impactful than the audio.
LibraryThing member Beth.Clarke
Excellent YA novel. It encompasses history, current events, coming of age, a bit of everything a YA reader would want. The three stories happen in vastly different times, but incredibly similar experiences.
LibraryThing member deslivres5
Heartbreaking and informative, this historical fiction juvenile novel details and contrasts the emotional journeys of three child refugees from three different periods in history: 1930s Germany, 1990s Cuba and 2010s Syria. Told in alternating chapter voices, the links between the stories are poignant.
LibraryThing member AMQS
Oh wow, is this ever an important book for kids. Three refugees' stories are told in alternating, short, cliffhanging chapters: Josef, whose Jewish family was ordered to leave Germany in 1939; Isabel with her family and her neighbors fleeing Cuba in a makeshift boat in 1994; and Mahmoud and his family fleeing Syria over land and over sea in 2015. Mr. Gratz somehow finds a way to bring their stories together in the end. Nothing is sugar-coated here. This is an excellent book for readers 5th grade and up who may want to know more about refugees. The book does an excellent job of showing why desperate families may have no choice but a desperate escape, and that the refugees simply want to live, not to take anything away from anyone. The stories are based on real events, and the book includes maps and resources for kids who want to help. I am so thrilled this is a Colorado Children's Book Award nominee for 2020.… (more)
LibraryThing member wrightja2000
Wow! I usually hate books with alternating view points and stories but these the stories of different times paralleled each other so well that I was engaged in seeing the similarities and was immediately caught up in each character's story, despite all the cliffhangers and jumping back and forth. Got it from the library but I will be buying this to add to my personal library. I love that the author gave some specific suggestions for helping refugees and is donating money from the sale of the book to the UNICEF and Save theChildren.… (more)
LibraryThing member brittburditt
The book Refugee is about three different characters and their families who come from different areas of the world during different time periods, yet their stories intertwine due to the unforeseen circumstances that they are forced into. This book would be a great read for middle school grades and higher learning about history and refugees specifically, especially since the book has three different stories from three time periods and three different countries and cultures. Because the stories involve three time periods, past to present, the students will have a better chance of connecting with the story and realizing how serious of a situation refugees are and have been in.… (more)
LibraryThing member Jthierer
I read this book for my book club, and I should admit I was in the minority in not liking this book. I 100% agree that it was an important and moving topic, especially in our current political climate. If I had a child in the target age range of this book, I would probably want them to read and talk about it with me. But, I'm an adult, and this book wasn't for me.… (more)


Original language


Original publication date


Physical description

352 p.; 6.25 inches


0545880831 / 9780545880831


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