Reviewed by Nandini Sai Krishnan
Imagine having to leave the place you grew up, the only place you’ve known and only finding out a day before? That’s what happens to twelve year old Omar, in Elizabeth Laird’s Welcome to Nowhere, which sheds light on the ongoing civil war in Syria. The story starts in the beautiful city of Bosra in Syria, where Omar lives with his mom, dad, older sister Eman, older brother Musa (who has cerebral palsy), younger brother Fuad and baby sister Nadia. He works at work tourist shop for Rasoul, who he dreams of becoming like when he grows up. But his life is turned upside down when he finds out that he is moving to Daraa in three weeks, the place where all his troubles begin…
His family moves into his grandmother’s house. At school, Musa befriends a group of popular kids who conspire against the government. Soon there are demonstrations against the government on the street and open firing. Things escalate quickly, unleashing a full scale civil war; Bombings and shootings become common and electricity is cut, leaving Omar in the darkness, without lights and with no contact to the outside world. Things continue like this and one day, as city faces terrible shell attacks, Omar is shot on the streets, but those are the least of his concerns when a shell lands on his house. Luckily, his family escapes unscathed, but in an instant, his home and everything he owns has been destroyed, and once again, his family is displaced and move to the countryside.
Omar’s family moves in with his mom’s sister and his whole family is forced to live in a tiny storeroom. Everything is calm and placid, but mundane as Omar begins to work in the farm. The dark shadow of the war slowly grows larger and soon it extends into every inch of Syria leaving Omar with nowhere to go. His family is forced to leave on a dangerous journey to a foreign land. The travails of the journey and what lies ahead for Omar’s future form the rest of the story.
Even though I am almost the same age as Omar and can barely imagine all the things he has to go through and all the difficult decisions he is forced to make, and what makes it even worse is that this is happening in Syria right now. This book makes a very complicated issue, easy to understand for readers. With the word refugee constantly popping up in the news, it’s hard to unwrap all the complication that come with it, but this book changed my understanding and ignited a passion in me to create change.
If you are looking for a book to broaden your thinking or understand the political situation in Syria then this is a must read. In fact, I think any middle schooler should read this book, just to understand what is happening in the world currently or to learn more about refugees. My favourite part of the book was when Eman stands up for herself and fights for her rights despite living in a largely patriarchal society. As I read the book, I found myself chuckling at Musa’s quick wits, smiling at Omar’s optimism, but mostly lamenting reading about all the terrible things that were happening in Syria right now. Overall, this book is about a serious issue, but communicates its message to younger readers very effectively and transports readers into a different, but very real world.