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Refugee Boy

3.73  ·  Rating details ·  1,813 ratings  ·  160 reviews
Alem is on holiday with his father for a few days in London. He has never been out of Ethiopia before and is very excited. They have a great few days togther until one morning when Alem wakes up in the bed and breakfast they are staying at to find the unthinkable. His father has left him. It is only when the owner of the bed and breakfast hands him a letter that Alem is ...more
Paperback, 304 pages
Published August 2001 by Bloomsbury
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Average rating 3.73  · 
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 ·  1,813 ratings  ·  160 reviews

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Trigger warnings: racism, murder (it happens off the page and is only related in letter form, but (view spoiler), death of a parent.

I wanted to love this book, I really did. I mean, it's the story of a 14 year old boy whose father takes him to England on "holiday" and then leaves him there to claim refugee status to get him out of the Ethiopian/Eritrean border war. It should have been hard hitting and compelling and an insight to the
Helen F
Jan 17, 2014 rated it did not like it
I read this book for work purposes as I work in literacy with teenagers. I have heard such good things about this book so it has surprised me that of all the YA books I have read over the last year this was my least favourite. I found the writing style weak and as though it was written for children much younger than its intended audience. I also found it difficult to really engage with the characters, mostly due to the way it was written. In my opinion it would be a book for very weak readers ...more
Absolutely incredible story - I was stunned to find out at the end that it was fictional! I honestly thought this was a true story. Man.

I read an 'uncorrected proof' because that just happened to be the copy I found (in a secondhand bookstore). So I don't know if things were changed or what, but I LOVED the start - how in the first chapter they are in Ethiopia, and Alem's father is being called a traitor because his wife is Eritrean... then the second chapter is almost word for word exactly the
Zoe Hall
‘The planet is for everyone, borders are for no one. It’s all about freedom’.

I read this book in one day. I’ve never read anything by Benjamin Zephaniah, but I am aware of who he is. I read this book as part of the Penguin Read the Year challenge. This month’s book theme is migration.

This was an easy book to follow, in terms of its narrative- the central character is Alem, a young boy. It very much feels like the narrative is very childlike in its nature. However, this is not to say this is a
Jun 24, 2016 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition

This is a novel about a boy who had to flee from both Ethiopia and Eritrea and ends up as a refugee in Great Britain. I think the subject matter is a very important one and I overall liked how it was addressed, I just felt that the story was lacking on the emotional side, or rather, the writing didn't really provoke many emotions in me, which is a bit of a shame.
Matt Craft
I found the story to be moving, but the writing was not very strong. It helped that I work with people from East Africa - I was interested to read about some of the recent history and to consider what refugees go through in seeking asylum. Unfortunately, the characters were one-dimensional and the style was clumsy. The book may be worth reading, but I didn't love it.
Nov 27, 2017 rated it it was ok
Recommended to Tess by: Year 9 student studying it in class
I wasn't impressed with this book at all. The characters were all too good to be true. The school boy activists came across as too polished in their ability to organise events, speak to large crowds etc - this is totally at odds with my own experience of what young people of this age are capable of or have the confidence to achieve. I was always aware of the author in the background because the characters and plot weren't believable. His viewpoint came through in the speech of some of the ...more
May 31, 2018 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-in-2018
I didn't realise it was a children's book. I found the subject matter interesting, but it didn't really touch me, I wasn't all that invested. Also I found Alem to be a little too perfect and his father sometimes a bit frightening. But I'm aware that those feelings might be, because of my prejudices.
Dec 18, 2018 rated it liked it
This book was about a young boy whos parents are from two different countries that are at war with eachother. Life is not safe for him where he was born and raised. His father sends him to england on a father and son ‘holiday’ and ends up leaving him in England so he does not live in a war zone. This is about the journey of living with minimal guidance in a new counrty and still being able to perceive. I really liked this book because it has good morales. I feel like this is for older ages ...more
Apr 11, 2019 rated it liked it
This novel follows the experiences of Alem, a young boy of Ethiopian and Eritrean descent fleeing the conflict in his homeland. Although the foundations of the story are moving, I found the characters themselves quite one-dimensional and, at times, unrealistic (especially Alem's friends). This lack of complexity meant that it was difficult to get emotionally caught up in the lives of the characters and maintain interest in the plot. Zephaniah's message about the need for compassion is an ...more
Jan 15, 2019 rated it really liked it
I really enjoyed this book, I loved how you got a real insight in to the life of a refugee in the UK who is waiting for the war in Ethiopia and Eritrea to be over so that he can return to his home country. After his father leaves him in England, Alem sets out to learn more about life and his surounding area. I would recommend this book to anyone after a heartbreaking story of friendship and over the age of 10.
Julie Reynolds
May 30, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This book was recommended to me. It’s a teenage/YA book with a simple but very powerful message. It is in many ways a tragic story. I choose to believe that the main character built a good life here in the UK with the help of his foster family and friends.
Aikae Laumape
Aug 12, 2013 rated it really liked it
Refugee Boy written by Benjamin Zephaniah is a conflicting and compelling novel about a young boy by the name of Alem Kelo who is caught in between two countries at war. I decided to read this book because it was recommended by my little cousin and i thought i should give it a chance, so obviously that would mean that on the Bingo bored it would fall under the category of recommended by a family member .Not thinking much of the book at first after reading 13 pages I was hooked and after quickly ...more
Nov 25, 2016 rated it really liked it
I thought this book was absolutely exceptional and thought provoking. The subject is very important and I greatly appreciated the message it gave.
Especially important because of the current global issues (cough America cough cough)

It made me think so much about life and refugees and loss.

Reasons as to why I didn't give it a five star is because the writing was very average, although the storyline was pretty good. I did not like Alem. Yes i felt for him but I just didn't find him as likeable
Oct 21, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was an interesting, quick read. After the first few pages, it was evident that this is a book targeted toward youth. It's about a boy whose dad is Ethiopian and mother is Eritrean, during the war of Eritrean secession. The parents are persecuted on both sides of the border and fear for their life, so the boy's dad brings him to England and leaves him there as a refugee. It does give a few good bits about Ethiopian culture and some background on the war. But for the most part, it's about how ...more
Nancy Freund
Nov 19, 2012 rated it it was amazing
This excellent YA novel is part of our school's Year 8 (age 12-13) curriculum, and I've seen so many students (readers, reluctant readers, voracious readers) devour this one that I was eager to read it myself. Absolutely worth it, for the novel itself and for the fact that it led me to Benjamin Zephaniah's poetry and more. Refugee Boy is an excellent story, very revealing about the refugee experience in Britain, and very real. I overhear students discussing Ethiopia and Eritrea with an ...more
Jan 19, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
fantastic sory of a refugees and the hardships and trial they must endure ,but Alems own story is heartbreaking ,yet he is able to always look ahead and challenge himself even in his darkest moments. I encourage others to read this story to understand why some people are refugges and understand what that really means. Also to look into themselves to appreciate all that is one has especially an education.
Aug 03, 2013 rated it it was ok
i liked the idea of this book and the theme was very moving but i just couldn't get into the story, connect with the character or enjoy the writing style, which is a shame because i loved one of his other books 'face'.
Mar 19, 2015 rated it liked it
This is an absolutely incredible story! It makes you think about important social issues like war and refuge and tells an important story because there are so many refugees with stories as extraordinary or even more so as this!
Jun 16, 2011 rated it it was amazing
I really liked this book. It was very moving in many ways. I liked the plot and how the characters moved around in it. I liked the love that the characters had for alem. It was sad but VERY well written. is it fictional???
Jan 28, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I read this book in my English class in Year 8 and I totally loved reading it! It was so interesting and I couldn't put it down..Totally recommend this to anyone..
Jan 24, 2015 rated it did not like it
Shelves: hot-garbage
This novel was horrendous. It was inaccurate and full of plot holes, as well as having a perfect protagonist.
May 06, 2019 rated it really liked it
Refugee Boy by Benjamin Zephaniah is a realistic fiction book, but the story is about a real problem so stories close to these could be non-fiction since experiences like this have happened to people all around the world in similar situations such as these.

This book starts off with a comparison of how a family would be treated at a time of civil war in both Eritrea and Ethiopia. Both these countries are at civil war and a boy Alem and his father end up travelling to the UK in order to stay away
May 07, 2019 rated it really liked it
I decided to read the book called “Refugee Boy”. The author is Benjamin Zephaniah. This book is realistic fiction, it traces the life of a refugee boy and his family. I had to read this book for english class, but I liked reading it.

This story mainly takes place in London as that is where Alem, the main character lives. Alem is a refugee and his challenge is to survive and adapt to living in England. A refugee called Alem has to live alone in London with his foster parents, many good and bad
Morven McLeod
Jan 04, 2018 rated it liked it
Refugee Boy tells the story of Alem, an asylum seeker with Ethiopian and Eritrean parents. The war between the two countries makes it too dangerous for him to stay, and so his father decides to take him to England as a refugee.

The book documents Alem's struggle to be given legal status as an asylum seeker, and his difficulty in fitting in to a country where there are some who have negative views towards political refugees. It has a positive message, of acceptance, and the power of the young to
Sep 04, 2018 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I really wanted to like this book. The theme is super important, and the story could've been really good. Just, the writing was sadly not very capturing for me. The plot was written just as a string of things happening, almost listed up. Then this happened, then he went there, then he said that. There was no building of a story arc, and the characters were rather flat. Alem was a sweet boy, but there was no tension there, no character development. Then again, I read it for a uni course in ...more
Richard Sims
Jan 13, 2020 rated it liked it
I mainly read it because I'm a literature teacher for learners whose first language isn't English. I think this book might be great for that purpose, but as a singular reading experience......... I guess it just "felt" a little too........ childish for me. I know its aimed at younger readers, but for example I can still read the first few Harry Potter books and be engrossed, the characters and events never really quite clicked for me. I never really felt attached to the characters, although they ...more
Boy does it suck when a book with such good promise disappoints so badly ...

This is a fictional account of one boy's experiences as a refugee in the UK - from the day he has to flee his country right up until the final day of his asylum process. A beyond interesting plot - in theory.

Unfortunately, the idea is executed so badly :(! The writing style is really cringe-worthy in places, emotional moments are summed up in just a few sentences (when really they should be described in detail to make
Oct 12, 2018 rated it really liked it
This book is incredibly popular with KS3 kids. It encourages unquestioning compassion for refugees and is unapologetically political. Not only that, it has a clear and conscientious message: education is invaluable and youth activism has the power to change the world.

As a didactic novel, I think the views it puts forth are absolutely appropriate for children, and a healthy perspective to encourage. Still, for an adult reader much of the novel seems purposefully naive and the dialogue is stilted,
Gavin Stephenson-Jackman
Aug 12, 2017 rated it it was amazing
A stunning examination of the plight of refugees, which is all the more powerful today as we deal with a whole new class of political refugees from the United States. How we welcome refugees is critically examined here. Do we welcome them with open arms, respect, and help them adjust to life in a new and strange land, or do we treat them as 'other', to be suspect, and isolated. Alem and his father leave the war zone between Ethiopia and Eritrea for a 'vacation' in London. Alem wakes up two days ...more
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A British-Jamaican writer, dub poet and Rastafari. He was included in The Times list of Britain's top 50 post-war writers in 2008.
“This planet is for everyone, borders are for no one. It's all about freedom.” 32 likes
“real men cry, real men have feelings.” 2 likes
More quotes…