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Book Review

Publisher's Note:

A tour de force from acclaimed author Alan Gratz (Prisoner B-3087), this timely -- and timeless -- novel tells the powerful story of three different children seeking refuge. A New York Times bestseller! 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…


by Alan Gratz

Overall Book Review:

Alan Gratz is becoming “the guy” for middle grade historical fiction on tough topics. Refugee has received many accolades–all of which it deserves. It is a raw, unfiltered look at the immigrant experience through three refugee children and their families. The author pulls none of his punches and shows the horrific personal losses that occur to someone fleeing their home.

The narrative cycles among three children, ages 11 to 13, who span separate times in history–1939, 1994, and 2015. Their experiences have many similarities, and the author ultimately and expertly connects the three threads. The journey is so difficult for these families, but the reader is granted some hopeful resolutions at the end.

Although this novel is written for a middle grade audience, Mr. Gratz doesn’t sugar-coat this narrative. All ages of readers will feel anguished at some point in the book by the tragic events; the youngest readers might find parts particularly upsetting. The author provides notes at the end delineating the fact and the fiction, and there is a lot of sobering (but great) information in those notes.

Refugee is a must-read novel.

Review of the unabridged audiobook version

Content Analysis:

Profanity/Language: 2 religious exclamations.

Violence/Gore: Extended, frightening scene where adults break into house in the middle of night breaking things, hit children, drag off father in the night to a concentration camp; boy recalls being beat up when defending a friend to some bullies; girl witnesses a riot and police beating her father, description of injuries; destruction of building by missiles/bombs; shots fired at family; family caught in cross-fire of conflict, non-family members killed right next to children; characters struggle; verbal threats; implied threats; 12-year-old has to remove item from body of a dead person; child slaps parent across the face; parent tells family in detail the things/deaths/killings he witnessed in a concentration camp; animal shot; mention of blood; cabin ransacked and destruction of family’s personal items; recollection of death of a family member; 12-year-old sees bodies of the dead and parent asks them to look for shoes on the dead; death of an adolescent by traumatic injury; threat at gunpoint; parent attempts suicide; severe injury while fleeing; parent beat in front of their child; parent told they will have to choose which child to save; many frightening and intense scenes involving children and their families.

Sex/Nudity: None

Mature Subjects:

War; ethnic and religious discrimination and persecution; poverty; displacement for religious, political, ethnic, and/or economic reasons; imprisonment; concentration camps; attempted suicide; theft; loss of family members to death and other circumstances; death (friend).

Alcohol/Drug Use:

Adults drink alcohol.

Overall Book Rating

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About the Reviewer

An accountant and CPA by profession, I found myself a book reviewer for Squeaky Clean Reads by happenstance. When the opportunity came to transform that website into Compass Book Ratings, I was excited to seize it and meld my business background with my love of books. As the mother of three teenage sons, I have read a large number of children and young adult books and I believe that there is great value in a content review service. As much as we would love to read everything our children read, there just isn’t enough time. I also appreciate being able to select books for myself that are really worth my precious and limited reading time. I believe there is a book out there for everyone–they just have to find it!