May 2nd, 2021 by Karen
When I began this book, my plan was to read just a little bit, and then go to sleep. Can you guess what happened? I finished the whole thing in one sitting and finally went to bed at 1:00 am. Once I started, I just could not stop! Well, I do not recommend staying up so late — but obviously I highly recommend reading When Stars Are Scattered by Victoria Jamieson and Omar Mohamed.
To be honest, I also knew nothing about the book beforehand. But that didn’t matter, because I was immediately sucked into Omar’s story. The book takes place in the Dadaab Refugee Camp in Kenya, where Omar lives with his younger brother, Hassan. The two boys were forced to leave their mother and their home in Somalia after the civil war began, and now they live in the camp. Omar spends his days taking care of their tent, doing chores like getting water, and watching over Hassan, who doesn’t speak and sometimes suffers from seizures. But Omar also hangs out with his friends and their community, including their loving foster mother, Fatuma.
Check out a couple sample pages below, from the publisher’s website. These are from the very beginning of the book, and you can see how the illustrations bring you smack dab into the middle of the camp and Omar’s life right away.
See a longer excerpt of the book here
The book takes place over multiple years. During that time Omar, Hassan, and the many others who live at Dadaab all wait to see if they’ll ever have a chance to start their lives again outside of the camp. At first, Omar hopes he’ll be able to return to Somalia, reunite with his mother, and run their family farm. But as the civil war shows no sign of ending, he starts to dream about moving to America. Unfortunately, it feels like his chance will never come.
In the meantime, Omar is given an opportunity to attend school with his friends, which he has never considered before because he has always takes care of Hassan. But now a community leader is encouraging Omar to spend a few hours in school each day while Fatuma watches over Hassan. It’s a hard decision for Omar — and not the last tough choice that he’ll have to make throughout the book.
On that note, I have to warn you all: I cried a lot as I read this book. I do tend to cry easily. Sometimes my eyes get moist at the mere mention of sappy commercials. So yes, I am prone to crying. But Omar’s story — and the experiences of his community at Dadaab — are truly difficult. His life is also full of love and generosity, good friends, caring community leaders, a brother and foster mother he cherishes… But still, there is no denying the hard realities of Omar’s situation. So if you’re like me, you may want to discuss the book with a parent, teacher, librarian, or friend, either afterwards or as you read. Or maybe even read it together!
Have you already read When Stars Are Scattered or any of Victoria Jamieson’s graphic novels? Please leave a comment below with your thoughts! I really enjoyed her other books, but I have to say that this one now tops my list.
Reading this book reminded Karen of the “Reading Without Walls” challenge issued a few years ago by author Gene Luen Yang (the National Ambassador of Young People’s Literature at the time). He challenged everyone to get out of their comfort zone and read: 1) a book about a character who doesn’t look like you or live like you, and/or 2) a book about a topic you don’t know much about, and/or 3) a book in a format that you don’t normally read for fun. For Karen, When Stars Are Scattered fits categories 1 and 2 — and now she’s thinking about what she’ll read for category 3!