The new graphic novel When Stars Are Scattered brings the refugee experience into sharp yet sympathetic focus.
*When Stars Are Scattered by Victoria Jamieson and Omar Mohammed. Dial, 2020, 264 pages including author notes.
Reading Level: Middle Grades, 8-10
Recommended for: ages 8-15
“For me, the first years are lost. Now, in a place as crowded as this, I’m afraid we’ll never be found.” The place is Dadaab Refugee Camp in Kenya, now overcrowded with Somalis after the civil wars of the mid-1990s. Omar barely remembers his birthplace, but some memories are the stuff of nightmares: mainly how his father was killed in an attack on their village and how he and his brother were separated from their mom during the long trek to Kenya. They have a loving foster mother in the elderly Fatuma, but as the story opens they’ve waited years for something to happen: the war to end, Mom to find them, or even (maybe) resettlement in the west.
Boredom is a constant companion, as well as always watching out for brother Hassan, who is developmentally challenged and can’t talk. But maybe there’s a chance Omar can attend school. And pass the exams to get into in the middle school. And high school after that. And then (as the years pass and he and Hassan grow into their teens) if he learns English well enough, he might even be able to apply for repatriation to America.
Though bright and healthy, Omar’s circumstances sometimes get the better of him and he needs encouragement. “You have a gift, Omar,” his social worker tells him, “. . . and when God gives you a gift, it is your job to use it.” When reminded to count his blessings, he can number faithful friends: “I am lucky. So many people love and support me . . . I can have faith in my community.” One of his female friends sees her fortunes looking up when she is granted a scholarship and resettlement in Canada. But another, who is probably smarter than all of them, is forced into an arranged marriage and a becomes mother by the age of fifteen. This is not seen as cruelty, but as her family’s best option of providing for her.
Omar and his friends are Muslims, like most Somalis. Allah is referred to as God throughout, not just because that’s what Allah means, but also to make these characters relatable to Western readers. And they are: over the 264 pages of Omar’s saga we sympathize with the waiting, the hunger every two weeks (before a new food shipment arrives), the tensions that occasionally break into fights, the moments of tenderness, and the many ways people find to build community even the most difficult circumstances. The graphic novel format supports the story beautifully and helps readers even younger than the targeted range appreciate both the hardships and the blessings: “The love of others is a gift from God, and it shouldn’t be taken for granted.”
Overall Rating: 4.75 (out of 5)
- Worldview/moral value: 4.5
- Artistic/literary value: 5
- There’s no need to belabor the point, but young Christian readers should understand that the God Omar prays to is not the same as the God of the Bible.
Also at Redeemed Reader:
- We liked Victoria Jamieson’s other graphic novels, All’s Faire in Middle School and the Newbery-Honor-winning Roller Girl.
- We’ve reviewed so many books about refugees we should make a list! Some of our favorites are Refugee by Alan Gratz, Nowhere Boy by Katherine Marsh, and Inside Out and Back Again and Butterfly Yellow by Thannha Lai.
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