By Kenan Trebinčević and Susan Shapiro. Clarion Books, 2021. 384 pages. $16.99/hardcover; $9.99/eBook. Recommended for ages 8–12.
This is an autobiographical account of Kenan’s experiences as a Muslim boy who, with his family, lived in and subsequently escaped from Bosnia during the Bosnian War in the early 1990s. The family found refuge first in Austria and ultimately in the United States. The storyteller begins with 11-year-old Kenan describing his life in Brčko, Bosnia, during the early stages of the war. Several big themes are explored in the story—religious intolerance, nationalism, finding courage and resilience in difficult situations, and the strength of kindness and love.
The war is thoughtfully described from Kenan’s point of view. Kenan is a boy who loves soccer, who has a loving family who are relaxed in the Muslim faith, and whose family seems respected and liked by the community. As events of the war unfold, Kenan’s best friend, a Serbian (non-Muslim), becomes distant and eventually very cruel. Most of Kenan’s Muslim friends and family leave. Kenan’s father is reluctant to leave Brčko until after their situation becomes desperate as the family’s bank account is confiscated, schools are closed, Kenan’s father and brother are placed in a concentration camp, and friends become hostile and threatening.
The story also addresses the kindness of others in the midst of a war zone, and there are moments of intense drama and ultimate celebration as the family manages to emigrate.
The remainder and bulk of the book describes his refugee experience: the unsettled feeling that naturally accompanies moving frequently, the financial and cultural hurdles, and how the stress of the situation naturally drives family tension. With the perseverance of the family and with much kindness from others, Kenan and his family finally achieve a place of their own in the United States. The book ends hopefully, with Kenan and his family successfully navigating their transition to a new world.
Written for children 8–12 years old according to the publisher, the book nevertheless addresses very difficult subject matter of war and violence, betrayal, religious intolerance, and death, which are likely difficult for children who we like to think of as having a conscience unsullied by the painful realities of the larger world. As with Anne Frank’s The Diary of a Young Girl, it is left to the parent and child (as always) to determine if the child is of an appropriate maturity to read this story. A key difference with this story as compared to Frank’s diary is that this book has a hopeful and happier ending.
Vickie LeCroy is a retired elementary school educator, parent, and grandparent living near Nashville, Tenn.