Marwan's Journey

"I take giant steps even though I am small. One, two, three... crossing the desert. I walk, and my footsteps leave a trace of ancient stories, the songs of my homeland, and the smell of tea and bread, jasmine and earth."

Even in a children's book, a refugee's story is never ultimately this carefree, and Marwan's is no different. As the young narrator goes on to explain, he labors under the weight of his belongings ("my mended clothing, a prayer book, a notebook, a pencil, a photograph of my mommy") and is unsure of when he and his fellow travelers will arrive at their destination--wherever that is. He must sleep outside, where he dreams of his mother, who is, presumably, dead, although she still speaks to him: "She says: Marwan, keep going, walk, and walk, and walk. And I keep walking." Marwan and hundreds of others proceed on foot until finally they reach the border--"They say that it is an infinite line that separates the desert from the sea"--and their bittersweet fate: "Another country, another house, another language."

Such a book would seem an unlikely repository for uplift, but Marwan's Journey's concluding spread, showing the smiling boy overlooking his neighborhood from the roof of his new house, may elicit the reader's joy. This is where the book ends, but not Marwan's story. Throughout Marwan's Journey, his memories of home are persistent and vivid ("There was a garden, a cat and a ray of sunlight that shone every morning on my pillow"), and soon after he crosses the border, he thinks, "One day, I will return. I will not hesitate. I will plant a garden with my hands, full of flowers and hope." The reader has no doubt that he will. --Nell Beram, freelance writer and YA author

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