Omar has lived in a Dadaab, a Somalian refugee camp, for most of his life, and he can hardly remember a time before he lived in the A3 block, in the tent he shares with his little brother Hassan across the road from their guardian, Fatuma, making meals out of the scant rations and waiting for the day when he, Hassan and Fatuma will be selected to leave for America, where everyone is rich. Where he won’t have to sleep on the ground anymore. Where he can get medicine for Hassan, who barely speaks and used to get terrifying seizures. Where his life can really start.
When you live in a refugee camp, you spend a lot of time waiting. But that doesn’t mean Omar isn’t busy–he gathers water, plays soccer with his friends, tells stories to Hassan, and studies with his friends Jeri, Maryam, and Nimo. And he’s never stopped looking for his mother, who he hasn’t seen since fighting broke out in his village when he was a little boy.
As he grows up, Omar experiences danger, disappointment, and the fear that he’ll never leave Dadaab. Yet he also learns that in a world where he sometimes feels powerless, the loyalty and love that connect him with Hassan and Fatuma, his friends, and his community have a power of their own.
I don’t usually read graphic novels, but I thoroughly enjoyed this one, a story of growing up that is both universal and powerfully unique. The bright, evocative, emotional artwork is gorgeous, and the writing is crisp and concise, creating a vibrant, compelling, sometimes heartbreaking story about childhood in a refugee camp, based on coauthor Mohamed’s own life. (In fact, I realized partway through reading it that I was experiencing the same feeling of total immersion in a story, oblivious to anything around me, that I usually only get when reading standout books in prose!) The characters are deftly woven and immensely believable, and it’s a fast, satisfying, and deeply important read. At once a powerful personal story and an ode to the resilience and courage of the millions of people living in refugee camps today, I would highly recommend When the Stars Are Scattered to readers ages nine and up, especially for books groups and discussions.