GRAPHIC NOVEL REVIEW : When Stars are Scattered by Victoria Jamieson and Omar Mohamed

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Omar and his little brother, Hassan, arrived in Dadaab, a refugee camp in Kenya, seven years ago. Their father was killed the day they left home, and they haven't seen their mother since they joined their neighbors who were fleeing to Dadaab. Now Omar is eleven and Hassan is nine, and Omar has quit school to look after his brother, who has an intellectual disability.

When Omar is given the opportunity to return to school and carve out a future for himself and Hassan, he feels torn. He loves school and could have the opportunity to earn a coveted scholarship to a North American university--and with it a visa for himself and Hassan. But is it worth the risk and heartache of leaving his vulnerable brother for hours each day?

Told in Victoria Jamieson's engaging and accessible graphic-novel style and based on Omar Mohamed's gripping true story, this book is an intimate, important look at day-to-day life in a refugee camp.
This fictionalized memoir tells the powerful story of a young refugee and his brother as they struggle to survive amid difficult conditions.   Omar and his brother, Hassan, have lived in the Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya since they fled their home in Somalia seven years ago.  Having been separated from their mother the two boys manage to survive with help from the UN and their neighbor Fatuma.  Omar spends his days collecting water and doing other chores as well as watching his younger brother, who has an intellectual disability.
When given the opportunity to attend school, Omar wrestles with the decision.  Finally, he decides to go despite having to leave Hassan in the care of Fatuma and their neighbors.  Struggles abound for Omar and his brother.  Hassan doesn't understand why his brother is gone so much.  Omar struggles with his schoolwork as well as guilt for leaving his brother.  Above all it's hard to hold onto hope when hunger, hard work, lack of sleep, and a longing for their mother fills their hearts.  Through the many ups and downs of life as a refugee, Omar and Hassan and their friends try to hold on to hope that life will eventually be different, that they will be resettled and eventually find their mother.
This story left me in tears on more than one occasion.  The loneliness and frustration and confusion that Omar and his brother experience along with the hunger and lack of sleep touched my heart.  The story is beautifully told in Jamieson's winning illustrations as well as through the well-written text.  Ultimately, despite the numerous challenges faced by Omar and his companions, the book remains hopeful and encouraging.  How important it is to not give up, even in the face of heart-wrenching, back-breaking circumstances.  A truly inspirational winner of a book.


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