But there was something about this story that drew me. Maybe it was the graphic cover or that the unnamed country sounded a bit like Eastern Europe or the former Soviet Union—and I am sucker for books about those places. Though I never left at a time of war, leaving Ukraine for a family emergency on short notice took a bit of verbal acrobatics. So, I could relate to Marek’s story—the insecurity, the intensity of not knowing if you’ll get on that boat (or in my case, a plane).
This is a suspenseful book, and it pulls at your emotions—even if a setting is never named.
Synopsis (from Amazon):
A simple, resonant, and utterly heart-shattering debut about greed, love, trust and what matters most when your world falls apart.
A war-torn country . . . only one way out.
Ten-year-old Malik's world is falling apart. Soldiers have invaded town, and his mother is missing, leaving Malik with his grandfather, Papa. Along with a thousand other refugees, their hope for escape to a new life lies in gaining passage aboard one ship--but the demand for tickets is high, and so is the cost. Can they make it on? And will they find Mama before the ship departs? When things don't go as planned, Malik must summon all of his courage and resourcefulness to survive.
A heart-wrenching and suspenseful story of sacrifice and resilience, Close to the Wind confronts the realities of war in a timeless and accessible way.
What I loved about this book:
1. A sympathetic main character. In many ways, Malik seemed younger than most American kids his age, but then, in others, he did not. I immediately felt for him, because of his missing mother and the obvious love they had for each other. He’s not sarcastic, he feels deeply, and he can outsmart villainous grown-ups. He’s a protagonist you won’t soon forget.
2. The relationship between Malik and his grandfather. This on so many levels reminded me of the film Life is Beautiful, although perhaps young readers won’t see the motives behind the grandpa’s behavior as much as I did. His self-sacrificing nature and his deep love for the boy—unforgettable.
3. Simple language. One thing that really struck me about this novel was how simple the language is. No fancy flourishes, very straightforward, not much description. This is not surprising, considering the author is a former screenwriter. But this very direct style fit the story well.
4. An impressive arc. Both the character and the story arc were so satisfying in this novel. It was interesting to see how a magic trick introduced subtly at the beginning reappears in the climax.
5. An interesting villain. Although Malik had many obstacles, not all of them people, the main villain in the story was formidable and complex in his own right. The story wouldn’t have been so satisfying without him.
If you like books about war-torn countries, refuges, and family relationships, this is the book for you. Look past the unknown country and enjoy this book for what it is: a simple, sparse, and suspenseful story of a boy’s escape from a war-ravaged country.
What do you think about books with unnamed settings? Does it add or take away from the story for you?
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To check out more Marvelous Middle Grade suggestions, check out Shannon Messenger's blog.