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Review: Escape From Syria

Title: Escape from Syria
Author: Samya Kullab
Illustrator: Jackie Roche
Publisher: Firefly Books
Publication Date: Oct 17, 2017
Audience: Tween to Teen
Plot Synopses (from publisher): A graphic story of intense current events.

From the pen of former Daily Star (Lebanon) reporter Samya Kullab comes a breathtaking and hard-hitting story of one family’s struggle to survive in the face of war, displacement, poverty and relocation.

Escape from Syria is a fictionalized account that calls on real-life circumstances and true tales of refugee families to serve as a microcosm of the Syrian uprising and the war and refugee crisis that followed.

The story spans six years in the lives of Walid, his wife Dalia, and their two children, Amina and Youssef. Forced to flee from Syria, they become asylum-seekers in Lebanon, and finally resettled refugees in the West. It is a story that has been replayed thousands of times by other families.

When the family home in Aleppo is destroyed by a government-led bomb strike, Walid has no choice but to take his wife and children and flee their war-torn and much loved homeland. They struggle to survive in the wretched refugee camps of Lebanon, and when Youssef becomes fatally ill as a result of the poor hygienic conditions, his father is forced to take great personal risk to save his family.

Walid’s daughter, the young Amina, a whip-smart grade-A student, tells the story. As she witnesses firsthand the harsh realities that her family must endure if they are to survive — swindling smugglers, treacherous ocean crossings, and jihadist militias — she is forced to grow up very quickly in order to help her parents and brother.

Kullab’s narrative masterfully maps both the collapse and destruction of Syria, and the real-life tragedies faced by its citizens still today. The family’s escape from their homeland makes for a harrowing tale, but with their safe arrival in the West it serves as a hopeful endnote to this ongoing worldwide crisis.

Beautiful illustrations by Jackie Roche — whose work on the viral web-comic, Syria’s Climate Conflict, was seen prominently in Symboliamag.com, Upworthy.com and Motherjones.com, among others — bring Kullab’s words to life in stunning imagery that captures both the horror of war and the dignity of human will.

Overall rating: 4.5/5

Spoilers below
Main themes/tropes: Immigrant experiences, Life during wartime, Facing discrimination, Growing up too fast, child brides

Plot: The story opens with the start of the bombing in 2013, which is a great hook and then jumps forward and backward in time to explain the political situation in Syria going back decades. The book is good about giving readers just enough information to understand the different factions without overwhelming them with too many details. It also completely sells the misery the family experiences in the face of crippling debt and the myriad tiny daily challenges that come with emigrating halfway around the world. The mother’s realization that Syria is a different country and that they really can’t go back is a particularly great and well-earned emotional moment.

Characters: The story is really Amina’s, and her concerns are relatable and age appropriate, especially as she has to leave school and work for money for the family, and has to grow up too fast. One thing I wish had been included was a glimpse into how she transitioned from having adult burdens in Lebanon to being a teenager in school again once they arrived in Canada.

All of the main family characters are wonderfully fleshed out with the exception of Amina’s little brother Youssef whose main character arc is that he gets sick –> is sick –> gets better.

Art: The art is colorful and vibrant. The faces could be more expressive, but overall the characters were well-defined.

5 Reasons to read it:

• Great insight into life inside refugee camps, including the unending tension and boredom
• Amina’s character is going to stick with you
• Gives identities to Syrian refugees
• Gives a good summary of events in Syria without overwhelming the reader with too many details
• Captures the devastation of losing your home and your homeland