Refugee Boy by Benjamin Zephaniah

Alem is an African boy of fourteen and the child of a "mixed" marriage: his father Ethiopian, his mother Eritrean. Unfortunately for the family, these two nations are at war and they are forced to declare which side they are on. They must abandon their partner if they are on the "wrong" side. Refusal to do so or even hesitation brings brutal beatings, or worse, and the order to leave immediately. The slightest sign of refusal leads to the destruction of your home and all its contents.

The father (Mr. Kelo) takes Alem on "holiday" to England and, after a little sightseeing and a stay at a hotel, seemingly abandons him. Not so. He has left him in England to preserve his life, knowing that the Refugee Council will look after him. Alem is visited by two ladies from there, one of them an African; they tell him they are friends, there to help him and that he should contact them when in need

They place him in home for children in a similar position to his but he is desperately unhappy there. The conditions are abysmal and he is mercilessly bullied. He attempts to run away and is eventually placed with a loving, caring foster mother, of Irish descent.- and her stroppy 17-year-old daughter.
He is a serious, studious boy and when he goes to school he is intense about his education and wins the admiration of his teachers, There is some teasing from his classmates but two older boys befriend him These are of the hippie type but golden-hearted. He is introduced to an Indie band whose black leader is a militant believer in freedom for all.

But it isn't all good news. He hears from his father that his mother has disappeared and he fears the worst. Later he hears that his mother has been found – dead. The bottled up emotions burst and he cannot stop weeping. The family try to comfort him and, surprise, surprise, the daughter, who has seemed hostile to him, is the only one who really knows how to give him comfort and behaves like a mother, as only teen-age girls can when deeply stirred.
His father arrives in England and the bitterly hard road to acquire refugee status begins. When this is twice rejected, his school friends organise a mighty petition, signed by thousands, and a huge demonstration, joined by fellow pupils, parents and even teachers. This heartbreaking and heart warming experience, may seem a littler unreal to the reader but the author's skill induces us to accept it as, at least, possible.

I could not put the book down. If you read none other of my recommended books, READ THIS ONE.


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