Graphic Novel Review: When Stars Are Scattered by Victoria Jamieson and Omar Mohamed

When Stars Are Scattered by Victoria Jamieson and Omar Mohamed. Dial Books for Young Readers, 2020. 9780525553915. 264pp including an afterward to the graphic novel and author’s notes by both Mohamed and Jamieson, plus photos of Fatuma, Hassan, and Omar.

Omar and his younger brother, Hassan, live in a Dadaab, an enormous refugee camp in Kenya. When they fled Somalia years earlier, they lost their mother, and they hope to find her again. Fatuma, a woman from Somalia who is alone in the camp, functions as their foster mother. Theirs is a miserable, boring existence much of the time –fetching water, rationing what little food they get, trying to ignore their hunger — but Omar and Hassan play together and with other friends, particularly Omar’s best friend Jeri.

Omar sees it as his job to take care of Hassan, who is kind but needs looking after; the only ever says one word, “Hooyo!” So when Omar has a chance to start going to school, he’s not sure studying is the right decision for them even though it may lead to a better life, and even if they spend their entire lives in the camps. And after he does start school, it’s difficult for him to continue studying. (It’s not much of a spoiler to let you know that Omar is quite a student.)

When Omar and Hassan finally get an interview with the UN Resettlement Agency, it doesn’t lead straight to resettlement. There’s jealousy and hurt feelings as some folks that they know get to leave the camp, and a lot of waiting and uncertainty and heartbreak. It’s all broken up by bits of joy though. One of my favorite parts of the book is when everyone, after fasting for Ramadan, gives the kids candy on Eid Al-Fitr.

A few years ago, Jamieson began volunteering as a cultural liaison for refugees, and met Omar Mohamed through his work. The result is this slightly fictionalized version of Mohamed’s life story, an amazing, touching graphic novel about love, friendship, hope, and the value of education that belongs in all school and public libraries.

Here’s a link to the organization Mohamed founded, Refugee Strong.


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