Sometimes you read a book and just know it’s going to win all the awards – Boy,Everywhere by A.M Dassu is a prime example. I met the author through SCBWI (the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) and knew how passionately she felt about Sami’s story right from the outset so it’s a thrill to read the published book.
Boy, Everywhere tells the story of Sami as he flees his privileged life in Damascus, Syria with his family and heads towards Britain. The amount of research that A.M. Dassu has put into the novel is clear. This book doesn’t rely on lazy stereotyping and instead, portrays the complexity of the situation – both in Syria and the UK. It’s full of real emotion, nail-biting tension and shocking realities.
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This debut middle-grade novel chronicles the harrowing journey taken by Sami and his family from privilege to poverty, across countries and continents, from a comfortable life in Damascus, via a smuggler’s den in Turkey, to a prison in Manchester. A story of survival, of family, of bravery … In a world where we are told to see refugees as the ‘other’, this story will remind readers that ‘they’ are also ‘us’.
Before launching into the review, I would mention that this is upper middle-grade verging on young adult. Although treated with care, many of the topics are harrowing. These include bullying, racism and people smuggling. This is not an easy read, but it’s an essential one if we’re to even start to understand the journeys that refugees have to make to reach safety.
Like many people, I’ve seen and read news from Syria yet don’t think I really grasped the truth of the situation until I read Boy, Everywhere. The novel opens on a normal school day. We instantly see that Sami’s life is affluent. He is preoccupied with football, his new Nikes, his PlayStation – until a bomb blast rocks the local mall. Knowing that the fighting is now crossing into previously untouched residential areas, Sami’s surgeon father secretly plans to head to Britain – the only European country where he has contacts.
Much of the power in the book rests on this portrayal of Syrian society. It is virtually indistinguishable from our own giving the sharp sense that the same situation could arise anywhere. Sami’s voice adds to this. We experience his confusion as his family begin to sell their possessions and feel his fear as the battle closes in.
I held my breath through much of the middle section as the family make their way to the UK. Even though Sami’s father had status in Syria, he quickly loses this as they put their lives in the hands of people smugglers. To add to the emotional intensity, Sami’s mother and little sister, Sara are suffering from post-traumatic stress after witnessing an explosion. A.M.Dassu portrays the physical and mental impact of such a journey – the lack of sleep, chronic hunger and fear of being drowned, beaten or robbed is constant. But in the midst of this, there is compassion and companionship too.
Sami’s life doesn’t get any easier when he arrives in Britain. I found this one of the toughest sections to read because it shows the extent of latent and blatant prejudice in our country. In addition to having to jump through many bureaucratic hoops, the family experiences hostility from fellow refugees and their Anglo-Syrian hosts. Luckily, a series of small kindnesses and friendships offer Sami a path to a brighter future, but these are in the minority and all Sami wants to do is return to Syria. A.M. Dassu doesn’t sugarcoat the ending. It’s not what anyone wants or deserves, but it offers a fragile safety for the time being.
As a piece of fiction and social commentary, I can’t praise Boy, Everywhere enough. The writing is concise and Sami’s voice fully believable. We need more stories like this to understand the wider context surrounding asylum seekers. The strength of this novel also lies in its ability to portray the moral complexities surrounding the issue. Not all refugees are like Sami. A minority are dangerous, but we need to recognise these differences instead of stereotyping everyone that seeks sanctuary outside of their home country.
- Publisher: Old Barn Books
- ISBN: 9781910646649
- Number of pages: 288
- Reading level : 10 and up
Buy Boy, Everywhere by A.M.Dassu | Bookshop
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