Startling, important, nerve-wracking, eye-opening, tear-jerking and hopeful, 'Boy, Everywhere' by A.M Dassu is quite a children's novel. It's almost impossible to put into words the emotional power this book possesses. By its end you will be moved; needing time to reflect upon its message, its themes, the events you've experienced in such vivid, gut-wrenching detail. 'Boy, Everywhere' is fiction at its most potent: it rocks your foundations.
The story centres on Sami, a thirteen-year-old boy who enjoys football, school and hanging out with his friends - only he lives in Damascus, Syria. One day a bomb explodes at the local mall. Suddenly, and dramatically, his parents make the decision to flee Syria, taking a perilous and harrowing journey across Europe to Manchester.
This is a tough, illuminating novel full of horror and empathy and eventual hope. What makes it so important and so eye-opening is that it humanises the experience of refugees, like Sami and his family. Most of the western perception of the refugee crisis is understood, fleetingly, through abstract sound-bites or de-contextualised images presented in the news. But what A.M. Dassu does so convincingly and powerfully is to bring the experiences of refugees to brutal, honest and vivid life. And it's astonishing. In a matter of pages, Dassu completely dismantles our notions of what it means to be a refugee, or those living in Syria, as being 'other'. Instead Sami could be you or me. His family could be your family, or my family. It's a revelation to have Sami's family start off wealthy, before losing all their possessions to flee the dangers of their home country.
Dassu draws out all the tender details and dynamics of family life - in its universality, in its love and fragility - and thrusts it into the horrendous ordeal of getting to England from Syria. Sami's voice is brilliantly conveyed too- he's an 'every-teenager,' full of dreams and hopes and normal things. He just wants to play his Playstation with his mates - not be homeless on the road, cast adrift. The ending, when he finds friendship unexpectedly, and at the most crucial time, is heartrendingly beautiful and desperately real. This book doesn't shy away from telling you the truth. It's as important as books get.
I'm left mostly speechless by 'Boy, Everywhere'. It will be sometime until I fully process it. What's necessary is that people in the West educate themselves more about the crisis in Syria, about refugees in general, and what we most do to help those seemingly 'other' than ourselves - especially in a world now made even more difficult because of Covid-19.
An absolutely incredible novel, 'Boy, Everywhere' is a must-read.