Homes: A Refugee Story by Abu Bakr al Rabeeah

This is why we need books. How else could we, being privileged to be born in a safe country, possibly know what a person like Abu Bakr has been through.

4/5 stars.
ebook, 136 pages.
Read on February 5, 2019.

For those that know nothing about this book going into it, as I did, I encourage you to keep it that way because by the time I got to the end I was blown away on how this novel came to be. Also, I don’t know about you but as a Canadian, this book fills me with pride knowing that we are continuing to make this kind of impact, especially considering the current political atmosphere. I read this book in one sitting because I was so in awe of Abu Bakr’s story.

canada-reads-2019-chuck-comeau
Chuck Comeau will be defending Homes during the debates on March 25-28, 2019.

This is the first book in the Canada Reads 2019 shortlist that I have read so far. Will it take the cake during the debates? We will find out.

 

Abu Bakr and his family were originally from Iraq but when tensions turned violent over Shias and the Sunnis his father made the decision to move to Syria in hopes of a safer and better life. Abu Bakr is just a boy when he makes this move and initially, he is filled with excitement as it means that he gets to be close to his cousins. However, this safe haven turns into a war zone under president Assad and Abu Bakr’s childhood is robbed from him as he comes into his teenage years knowing the sounds of bullets, the colour of blood and ripped flesh, as well as intense grief and fear as it rips through Syria. Abu Bakr’s father had a plan from the start when they moved to Syria and it was to get on a refugee list with the UN. He was diligent and he called all the time to try and get his family somewhere safer. His diligence eventually pays off but it still comes with a steep emotional fee for Abu Bakr and his family.

Once in Canada Abu Bakr and his family face a new set of trials, starting with learning English since none of them speak a word. Here Abu Bakr gives an honest account of his first-time experiences in Canada and how he learned to connect with others through soccer.

So here is where I think the spoiler is, as I am reading this book I got the impression that Abu Bakr is full grown man discussing his childhood and how he came to live in Canada with his remarkable and tragic story. Then I get to the acknowledgements I come to realize that Abu Bakr is still a high school student and has only been in Canada a few years! With the help of his English teacher, Winnie Yeung, the two of them create this moving story of his journey to Canada.  What an achievement! I mean, what the hell were you doing when you his age? Certainly not learning how to survive in a war-ridden and death-filled country and then learning another language to write a selling novel about the whole ordeal. This is why we need books. How else could we, being privileged to be born in a safe country, possibly know what a person like Abu Bakr has been through. How can we come to appreciate what we have with gratitude? We listen and we read.

For anyone that doesn’t understand the refugee crisis and supports closing borders, I beg you to read a few more books like this one. Stories of immigration and refugees in Canada are becoming more prominent and it’s because it’s becoming a part of who we are and their stories are becoming ours. This book felt extra special to me as Abu Bakr moved to a city that’s three hours away from where I grew up and knowing that he has had a positive experience with Canadians warms my heart. I would highly recommend this light, short, and moving read for any Canadians. I would also extend this book recommendation to any Americans who want to know more about the positive experiences of keeping your borders open.

Rhapsody by Heather McKenzie

The final instalment of the Nightmusic Trilogy is here!

4/5 stars,
ARC/ebook, 382 pages.
Read from January 9, 2019 to January 16, 2019.

The final instalment of the Nightmusic Trilogy is here! A big thanks to Heather McKenzie for graciously allowing me to read and give honest reviews of all of her novels. It’s been a pleasure! Rhapsody was published on January 7, 2019 and is available for purchase.

If you haven’t read the two previous books in the Nightmusic trilogy, stop right now and go and read them as this novel won’t make much sense if you have not read the previous two novels. Besides, this whole trilogy is like an action-rollercoaster of intense excitement and suspense so you’re missing out on some great YA reads if you don’t start from the beginning.

Rhapsody picks up right where Nocturne left off in which the people that Kaya loves most have been taken by her ruthless and vindictive father, Henry. Henry is trying to get Kaya back under his reign so that he can claim her large inheritance for himself and continue with his ethically unsound pharmaceutical company. Luke, Kaya’s lover, and Stephen, her caretaker and real father-figure are currently being tortured at her father’s home. Kaya loves Luke more than anything and she is going to do whatever it takes to get him back in one piece. Kaya’s passion and recklessness when it comes to Luke are tempered only by Seth, Lisa, Oliver, and Thomas whose own care and reasoning keep her safe from harm.

“Henry chuckled. “A deal? I have what you want. So, in exchange for Luke, unharmed and released from his current situation, you will come home. And you will bring Mr. Oliver Bennet—my loyal, adopted son—with you.””

Thomas, whom we initially met in the previous novel, Nocturne, has fallen desperately in love with Kaya. Poor Thomas is in a bid to try and win Kaya over from Luke, a struggle that Kaya herself was not anticipating with matters of her own heart. Oliver, who has yet to get over his own feelings for Kaya, will still do whatever it takes to keep Kaya safe and happy, even if that means directly helping her save Luke. Can this group of friends get away from the grasps of Kaya’s horrid family? Who will Kaya choose? Thomas or Luke?

“Was I in love with two people? The thought of living out the rest of my days without Luke, or Thomas, made the future seem impossibly bleak and unbearable. My stomach twisted up around my spine.”

I don’t think I’ve ever read a YA book with so much blood and action before. The first chapter is a torture scene! I remember being blown away with Serenade with the action-packed plot and excitement and Rhapsody continues to carry that torch. This book balances a mature and intense, violent plotline with the intensity of teenage loveI struggled a bit with Nocturne due to the building of the love-square that takes place with KayaThomas, Oliver and Luke as it was hard to fathom the intensity that these young men loved Kaya. However, this book developed on those relationships further and allowed Kaya more choice with the outcomes of her life.  Kaya was more empowered with her decision making in this novel and the friendships that come out of Kaya’s tragic and tumultuous story are sincere.  Kaya really is a genuine, kind, and tough individual that everyone wants to know and care for.  Some old acquaintances and friends make a come back in this novel, with some who don’t care about Kaya as much as they initially led on but I’ll keep those suspenseful spoilers to myself. I will say this, however, the ending is a happy one and for that, I am grateful.

I’m sad to see Kaya’s story come to an end as I enjoyed it so much but I am looking forward to seeing what Heather McKenzie will come up with next. If you like YA, especially stories outside of the paranormal genre, I would highly recommend this powerhouse trilogy.