Germany, 1938. Josef’s father is arrested for being Jewish and practicing law. After six months at a concentration camp, he is released on the condition that he leave Germany. Josef and his family board the ship Saint Louis and head for Cuba.
Cuba, 1994. Isabel’s father participates in a riot to protest food shortages and political persecution. Police beat him and threaten to find him later and arrest him. When Fidel Castro says anyone who wants to leave Cuba is allowed to, Isabel and her family board their neighbor’s poorly constructed boat, trying to cross the dangerous waters between Cuba and the United States.
Syria, 2015. Mahmoud’s family narrowly escapes a missile that blows up their apartment building. With their home and nearly all their possessions destroyed, they finally decide to flee the civil war, which has been going on for years, and attempt the long and dangerous trek to Germany.
In alternating chapters, the book tells these stories, of three families, in three different time periods, fleeing war and persecution in the hope of finding a safe place to live. The conflict is constant; each story is gripping, with chapters ending with cliffhangers. This book is difficult to put down! The stories intersect in interesting ways. Although the main characters are fictional children, some of the side characters are real, and the events are based on actual stories of refugees. Be forewarned: as in real life, not everyone survives. This is an important book, teaching young readers how people become refugees and what those individuals suffer. Intended for ages 9-12, but of interest to older audiences as well.