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Review: The Unwanted

unwantedI hide from the news. I find it unpleasant and for the most part, close my eyes, cover my ears, and think that ignorance is bliss. It doesn’t always work, because I don’t live in a total cocoon. My husband is a news junkie and always likes to share his opinion on world events. (We mostly disagree!) There’s social media. And I wake up to the radio. So of course, I know about the refugee crisis, but since I catch news events in snatches, I often don’t have a full picture, until I start to delve into something I heard, either looking for a round up of news articles or reading books. I was grateful to pick up Don Brown’s The Unwanted: Stories of the Syrian Refugees, because he both gives an unbiased picture and explains how it all started.

The Unwanted: Stories of Syrian Refugees
By Don Brown
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2018
$18.99 hc/ Grades 9 and up

I’ve had a copy of this book sitting on my desk, read and ready to review, for some time. But given that this title received so much attention during this year’s book award season, I had to prioritize this review.

Using clear and simple text, Brown offers a solid picture of how the Civil War in Syria led to so many people flooding the borders, eager to leave at whatever cost. He describes the difficult journey people took to save themselves. How countries just didn’t want the floods of people coming out of Syria, and how many of these refugees were kept in large, unsanitary camps until countries figured out what to do with them.

The beautiful artwork gives an overall somber feeling with soft and dark color tones to give off the proper effect. Brown uses a hint of abstraction in the way he draws people, as if to say, this could be anyone. He uses muted, soft colors, mostly in grays, browns, and oranges, to capture the mood, the desert setting.

An afterward, describing Brown’s research and first-hand visits to the refugee camps and extensive source notes and bibliography, gives readers a solid basis to explore more on this topic. Teachers and Librarians can pair this with Ian Colfer’s Illegal to demonstrate that when people leave their home countries, they are often leaving in the hopes of a better life. And though this fiction title is younger than Brown’s Unwanted, readers who are interested in this topic might want to read Nowhere Boy by Katherine Marsh, which offers a European perspective to the story.

This book is fodder for both discussion and further research. It is a worthwhile addition to your reading list and library shelves. In addition, the book is suggested for high school students, but Junior High School students could handle the content. Most of the violence is shown “off panel.”

Esther Keller About Esther Keller

Esther Keller is the librarian at JHS 278, Marine Park in Brooklyn, NY. There she started the library's first graphic novel collection and strongly advocated for using comics in the classroom. Her collection is also the model for all middle school libraries in NYC. She started her career at the Brooklyn Public Library, and later jumped ship to the school system so she could have summer vacation and a job that would align with a growing family's schedule. On the side, she is a mother of 4 and regularly reviews for SLJ and School Library Connection (formerly LMC). In her past life, she served on the Great Graphic Novels for Teens Committee where she solidified her love and dedication to comics.

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