I was incredibly lucky to be sent a free e-version of this from Bounce when I begged for an early copy as I loved the sound of it! All views and opinions are my own.
Boy, Everywhere by A. M. Dassu
There have been many books in recent years addressing the current refugee crisis. The ever-popular Boy at the Back of the Class aside, I always really enjoy them (though that’s perhaps not the best phrasing) So when I read about this I was dying to read it, especially when I heard it was partly set in Manchester.
Boy, Everywhere begins in Damascus where we meet Sami and his friend Joseph leading normal, if anything privileged lives; with chauffeurs and gardeners, cleaners and big, comfortable houses. Sami’s dad is a doctor, his mum a teacher and they are like any other adolescent boys – moaning about homework, looking forward to football after school, playing PlayStation together etc. Until, that is, their school is evacuated and they find out there’s been a bomb at the mall. Then everything changes.
Before, they thought Damascus was safe, despite the bombings and destruction in the rest of Syria. But now it seems clear that its not and with Sami’s sister Sara traumatised from the bombing, his parents make the difficult decision to leave and try to make their way to England.
Despite the many dangers they face, Sami’s journey is told without melodrama or sensationalism, instead its sober realism – full of quiet tension and some truly harrowing moments – bring a heartbreaking, dangerous and almost unbelievable undertaking to life.
One of the many things this book did really well was to highlight how life can change so dramatically in an instant, and how that can happen to anyone – how easily it could happen here – and how people are traveling not out of desire, but necessity.
Sami’s family were just like any British family might be, until their lives were turned upside down by civil war. They do not want to leave their home. They do not want to travel to a new, unfamiliar country with limited housing and job prospects and no family or friends. They do not want charity, handouts and second hand clothes. But they have no choice – they just want to survive.
And it is the way Sami’s reactions are portrayed – his disbelief embarrassment, reluctance, anger, guilt – that really help drive these messages home.
Likewise, the comparisons he frequently draws to his old life really make him real and believable – the very natural reactions that could seem spoilt ir selfish, but if we’re honest we’d all feel – dislike at his uncomfortable surroundings, second hand clothes and unfriendly hosts.
There seems to be something of an unspoken ‘agreement’ that anyone receiving charity of any kind – whether material, monetary or practical – should just be grateful for it. The idea that to wish for something different, past or more shows a lack of appreciation, as if the two are mutually exclusive. I think this book brilliantly, yet sensitively questions that and examines the complexities of those feelings.
I also thought the people Sami meets on his journey, both fleetingly and those that have a longer lasting part in it, were incredibly well written.
I especially liked Ali who I thought was a wonderful character – written with warmth, he is one of life’s nice guys, but never comes across as too hood to be true and still feels like your everyday teenage boy (which really helped to reinforce the idea that of course that’s exactly what Sami still is too).
I thought his parents and his relationship with them, were very well portrayed. There were times I was infuriated by them on Sami’s behalf, but their stress, worry and determination to keep their family safe amidst the loss of the rest of their lives was stark and unimaginable.
The glimpses of the lives of other refugees remind us, again, that becoming a refugee does not then define who you are – these are still individuals with hugely varied backgrounds, stories, personalities and temperaments.
And, in particular I was struck by Sami’s surprise at the ‘welcome’ they receive from people on England – ranging from apathy to unfriendliness to outright hostility – is something to really stop and think about.
All in all, this is a rather waffly review to say this is a great book – tough, moving, harsh, hopeful and honest, it is both an emotionally charged and powerful story and also an eye-opening look at becoming refugees – not just the initial ‘leaving’ but the reasons behind it, the difficult decisions it entails and the complexities and problems faced in trying to make a new life.