Boy Overboard

by: 
Morris Gleitzman

Jamal, an 11 year old Afghan boy, narrates this novel, which tells the story of his family's precarious life in their home country and their dramatic escape in an attempt to emigrate to Austrailia.  Although the subject matter of the book is life-and-death, the entire tale is made accessible by Jamal's very human voice and his obsession with soccer, which seems to creep into every part of the book (including Jamal using his and his sister's soccer skills to protect them from smugglers who want to do them harm).  The book pulls no punches, from Jamal and his nine-year-old sister's close encounter with a landmine, to the government's violent execution of teachers, the book portrays a sad, brutal, and repressive life in Afghanistan.  But it also portrays the love of family, the joy of hope (and soccer), and the way that friendships can carry people through the worst of times.  Although Jamal is the main character in this book, his sister Bibi and a female friend they meet on their journey, also play big roles in the story, both demonstrating and defying the oppressive rules of gender in their society. Any child trying to understand the conflicts in Afghanistan or the refugee crisis could learn a lot from this book, and leave it with a tremendous sense of awe of what people go through. And, despite the very harsh circumstances, this book never gets terrifying or gruesome.  It's true and real but the perfect read for a mature elementary school or middle school student. 

Heads up - topics in this book that might require further discussion: 
Violence
War
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Yes