A young refugee's journey


Boy Overboard
By Morris Gleitzman
Puffin Books
144 pages, $14.95 (pb)


Boy Overboard is a book that tackles the issue of refugees by humanising their experiences. It is written for readers who are 10 years old or older.

"Overboard", says Yusuf's grandfather, "is an English word meaning to do something that is bold, wild, dangerous and crazy". Jamal's decision to "go overboard" stems from his experiences growing up in a war-torn land. He wants to change his world and he has a grand plan to use soccer to do it.

Optimism, perseverance, courage and tenacity are the tools of survival for Jamal, his feisty younger sister Bibi and the friends they make on their journey.

Separated from their parents at the docks, Jamal and Bibi do not even know if they will see them again, a haunting nightmare as they try to cope with the hazards and traumas of life on a refugee boat.

The story has an edge of excitement and suspense, as Jamal and Bibi take to the sea in battered vessels and deal with cruel smugglers who treat them appallingly. They risk everything. There's no guarantee of safe arrival. No knowledge of their fate. Just a hope that an unknown country - Australia - will be a haven.

Jamal's incredible strength, drawn from the knowledge of his ancestors and his belief in the "secret of soccer", and his dreams of how great Australia is going to be sustain Jamal through horrendous and heart-breaking experiences.

One question author Morris Gleitzman leaves unanswered is whether Jamal's faith and hope will be rewarded. After all Jamal and his family go through, will they be recognised and welcomed?

Gleitzman wrote the book using real-life stories of refugees. It's a book a lot of children, and adults, should read. The Puffin (<http://www.penguin.com.au/puffin>) web site has extracts from the book and notes for school teachers.

From Green Left Weekly, December 11, 2002.
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