When a new boy is introduced at school, no one is exactly sure where he has come from; what is a “refugee kid”, anyway, and how can Ahmet be helped to feel that he belongs? Though the narrator’s voice is overly young at times, this is a lovely, warm-hearted first novel, a celebration of courage and friendship leavened with mischief.
This book centres on one of the huge global issues of our time: the refugee crisis. It does so with enormous sensitivity and even humour. One of the successes of this book is that, while it doesn’t shy away from the trauma of the crisis, it makes it accessible to the young reader. It does this through its characters – the children around Ahmet – who are always asking questions to try to understand the world around them... The refugee crisis is something that continues to make headlines and it is affecting families all over the globe, including many in the UK. This book’s greatest strength is how it conveys the emotive nature of its main theme in a way that opens up conversations instead of shutting them down. The Boy at the Back of the Class is not only a well-written book that begs the reader to keep reading, but also one that opens up a dialogue that we need to be having with our young people.
This is the story about how one ordinary nine-year-old child and three classmates are full of empathy for Ahmet, a boy that comes to their school as a refugee from Syria (he is the boy at the back of the class). Through their sensitivity, curiosity, ingenuity, bravery and innocent niceness, they make a massive impact on Ahmet’s life, friends, class, school, community and wider world. There’s a lovely lack of stereotyping on gender and backstory for the narrator, which adds to the message of not judging people before you know them. An inspiring and sweet tale that will help children think about what it is to be a good person whatever your circumstances (the narrator is from a poor background with a single parent mum who struggles to make ends meet), and challenge prejudice and push for fairness, whenever possible. This is a beautiful, open-hearted debut from Onjali Q Raúf that should help children be the best they can be and realise the power of kindness.