Book Review: When Stars Are Scattered

Book summary:
Omar and his younger brother, Hassan, have spent most of their lives in Dadaab, a refugee camp in Kenya. Life is hard there: never enough food, achingly dull, and without access to the medical care Omar knows his nonverbal brother needs. So when Omar has the opportunity to go to school, he knows it might be a chance to change their future... but it would also mean leaving his brother, the only family member he has left, every day.

Heartbreak, hope, and gentle humor exist together in this graphic novel about a childhood spent waiting, and a young man who is able to create a sense of family and home in the most difficult of settings. It's an intimate, important, unforgettable look at the day-to-day life of a refugee, as told to New York Times Bestselling author/artist Victoria Jamieson by Omar Mohamed, the Somali man who lived the story.

When Stars are Scattered, written by Omar Mohamed and Victoria Jamieson, is the story of a young Somali, Omar Mohamed, who navigates through hard life with his brother Hassan, as young refugees in a Kenyan camp, having escaped from the civil war in Somalia that broke in 1991 and went on for years.

At the time of the book’s first chapter, they'd been living in the refugee camp for seven years. They couldn’t go back to Somalia, where home was, because the war was still going on. They couldn’t call Kenya their home, because Kenya wasn’t – they were simply in a refugee camp based in Kenya. So imagine two 'nationless' brothers on their own, no mother or father, holding on to hope that someone would someday day claim them, hoping and waiting for their mother. 

When Stars are Scattered ushers in a big wave of awareness about the littlest things we have that we take for granted, and my heart tightens to realize that things so seemingly small to some of us is a world of treasure to others who have found themselves in situations they never asked for or imagined. I was encouraged by Omar’s resilience, moved by his deep love for his brother Hassan, his guardian Fatuma, and his friends and community at the camp. I also found myself smiling hard at the humorous moments, thrown in little bites, in the story.

The writing style is quite simple, and that's what makes it such a great book. Infact, the simplicity is quite extraordinary and tugs at your heartstrings, because it's written from the perspective of a young boy whose innocence you can feel in the words that reveal heavy truths and harsh realities – the harsh realities of war, the damage it wrecks to homes, families, lives. One moment he and his brother are living happily at home with both parents, and the next moment both parents are gone and the brothers find themselves literally running for their lives, on foot, to another country.

The portrayal of the characters and scenery through the images is spectacular; you needn’t words to understand the scenes. Kudos to Jamieson, the artist behind such spectacular work of art.

Without giving away too much, I’d use just one word to describe this book: Brilliant. It’s an amazing story of endurance, hardship, love, resilience, hope, and reconciliation.

Today, Omar, the man who lived the story, now runs a nonprofit project that advocates for refugees from all over the world. I encourage you to buy the book and check out the last few pages for more information about the project.

GENRE: Memoir/Graphic novel
MATERIAL CONNECTION: Purchased for reading pleasure only