by Victoria Jamieson and Omar Mohamed
“Refugee camps are supposed to be a temporary place to stay until it’s safe to go back home. I guess no one expected the war to last so long, though, because Hassan and I have been here for seven years.
There are a lot of bad parts of living in a refugee camp. There’s not a lot of food here, so Hassan and I are always hungry. And it’s hot. But for me, the worst part of living in a refugee camp is…it’s really boring. Every day is basically the same.”
Ratings & Reviews
Book Grade: A
Non-fiction or memoir graphic novels can be tricky as they often leave out details that help flesh out a story. This is not the case with When Stars are Scattered. Omar’s story comes to life and the simple drawings do not minimize the powerful lessons held within these pages. Pearls of wisdom abound and the eye-opening details about life in a refugee camp evoke compassion. For example, the challenge to find clean water, the limited food resources, the difficulties that exist for girls trying to get an education – all of these are brought to life through Omar’s story and are told in a way that allows younger readers to gain awareness of humanitarian crises around the globe.
Omar and Hassan’s story is filled with hope, but the abundance of challenges cannot be denied. Their constant search for their mother weaves much of the story together, and the fear and uncertainty that many of the refugees face each day (as they look for lost relatives, wait to hear from the UN, or seek out ways to earn money) paints an authentic picture of life for refugees in Africa, but the book remains apolitical. Relying on his own story and sharing what happened within his corner of Dadaab, this book reads like poetry and paints a picture of hope and survival in Omar’s journey to a better life.
Interestingly, when I began the book, I assumed that it would be a better fit for some of my younger-level readers, but the story progresses as Omar grows. The things that matter to him when he is 11 are different than those when he is 18; the natural progression in the story makes this a great story for readers of all ages, but especially for secondary-level students who can appreciate the uncertainty of life as adulthood beckons.
Bonus: The audio book version of this was beautifully translated from a graphic novel to a full-scale audio production. Sound effects, different actors, and music allowed the story to come to life in a manner that might be more engaging for students who do not value graphic novels. The same vivid images found in the print version are painted through a masterfully done audio version.
Movie Rating: G
By and large When Stars are Scattered is a gentle retelling of the real events of Omar’s life. It deals with the challenges of life in a refugee camp with age-appropriate content. There is no swearing and the taunting and teasing that occurs is suitable for young readers. There is mention of violence in Somalia, but the references are vague and lack details. One of the young teens in the story is forced to quit school to marry an older man, but her story serves as a vehicle for change in the future. Additionally, there are multiple mentions of Omar’s faith, but they are brief in nature. There is also a passing reference to men at the market who sit around and chew a plant that makes them forget. The reference is vague, at best, keeping in line with a story that is appropriate for younger and more mature readers.
Would I Buy This for My Library: Yes
This book beautifully blurs the line between a standard graphic novel and a personal memoir. Blending the best elements of the two, this book will undoubtedly appeal to students who prefer the visual genre as well as students who are driven to learn about global issues and humanitarian concerns. This book is written in a manner that will compel readers to think, yet is not preachy or political. The beautiful cover will attract readers, but the story will cause readers to think in a more sophisticated manner than most graphic books do. I am excited to get this into the hands of my students!
When Stars are Scattered is the touching true story of Omar Mohamed who fled Somalia when his village was attacked, and spent most of his childhood in the refugee camp, Dadaab, in Kenya. In both the graphic non-fiction and audio book adaptation, Omar brings to life the daily tedium, the regular challenges, and the constant fear that threaten refugees in the resettlement camps in developing nations, and focuses on his relationship with his brother (who is non-verbal) and his challenges to get an education (in a community that makes schooling a difficult task).
Omar begins his journey as a young boy who has never attended school. He has had to serve as Hassan’s caretaker – with the help of a woman in the camp, Fatuma – and has largely missed out on childhood experiences because of this. When he has the opportunity to attend school (and dream of a world beyond Dadaab), he is wary, but begins to see the opportunities that await him. This touching story chronicles Omar’s trials and tribulations honestly, through the eyes of a growing boy who yearns to find his home. Broken into sections spaced years apart, the story shows the beauty of friendship, the power of education, and the unwavering importance of hope.
Book Talk Questions:
- What are some of the challenges with living at the refugee camp?
- Why does Omar worry about going to school? How do others encourage him?
- Describe the girls at school. What are their dreams? Who has to give up on that dream and why?
- How does Omar’s interview with the UN go? Why must he go on with life afterwards?
- What does Omar want to be when he is older? Where does he get unexpected support for his dream?
A Perfect Read for Fans Of…
- I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai
- My Soul is Filled with Joy by Karen Treiger
- The Unwanted: Stories of the Syrian Refugees by Don Brown