Jump to ratings and reviews
Rate this book

When Stars Are Scattered

Rate this book
Heartbreak and hope exist together in this remarkable graphic novel about growing up in a refugee camp, as told by a Somali refugee to the Newbery Honor-winning creator of Roller Girl.

Omar and his younger brother, Hassan, have spent most of their lives in Dadaab, a refugee camp in Kenya. Life is hard there: never enough food, achingly dull, and without access to the medical care Omar knows his nonverbal brother needs. So when Omar has the opportunity to go to school, he knows it might be a chance to change their future . . . but it would also mean leaving his brother, the only family member he has left, every day.

Heartbreak, hope, and gentle humor exist together in this graphic novel about a childhood spent waiting, and a young man who is able to create a sense of family and home in the most difficult of settings. It's an intimate, important, unforgettable look at the day-to-day life of a refugee, as told to New York Times Bestselling author/artist Victoria Jamieson by Omar Mohamed, the Somali man who lived the story.

Audio CD

First published April 14, 2020

Loading interface...
Loading interface...

About the author

Victoria Jamieson

22 books680 followers

Ratings & Reviews

What do you think?
Rate this book

Friends & Following

Create a free account to discover what your friends think of this book!

Community Reviews

5 stars
16,339 (71%)
4 stars
5,314 (23%)
3 stars
1,079 (4%)
2 stars
156 (<1%)
1 star
78 (<1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 3,811 reviews
Profile Image for Dave Schaafsma.
Author 6 books31.3k followers
May 12, 2023
"We're all waiting in this camp. Waiting. Waiting for something better."

Oh, what a difference to read a crucially important, necessary story when a talented storyteller tells it! Victoria Jamieson is perhaps best known for her book Roller Girl, though she has written and drawn many books for middle grades, especially. This book, Goodreads-award nominee of 2020 for graphic novels/comics, the story of adult Omar, now living in Arizona, tells of the FIFTEEN years he and his disabled brother Hassan spent in Dadaab, a refugee camp for Somali families displaced by the civil wars in their country in the nineties. Their farm burned down, Dad killed, they never knew what happened to their mother.

The two little boys lived alone in the UN-sponsored camp in a hut, taken care of by a woman who "fostered" them. Omar was fortunate enough to be chosen to go to school and there were after many, many years of the very, very few who were chosen to be emigrated to the U.S. Omar wanted to tell this story from his perspective as a boy growing up there. He's Muslim, we learn of separate girls and boys cultural and religious experiences.

We learn of constant hunger, terrible heat, and occasional good luck for the very few. A release after fifteen years of captivity might not seem like good luck to you, as the majority were and are not released, as typically is taking place in multiplying refugee camps all around the world, but it is nevertheless the case that Omar could say he was relatively lucky.

I think we need to read these stories all the time to remind us that the camps proliferate and we need to be kind to each other, helping those in need instead of building walls to keep them out. Is there a limit to what we can do? I don’t know, but to do less than care for those in need changes us, demeans us. From middle grades through high school, though long for the youngest ones, I read it this morning in one sitting. Read it, get kids to read it!!! Kudos to Jamieson for doing this work in addition to the more "fun" books she typically does. Do more if you can!
Profile Image for Kim Bongiorno.
Author 15 books322 followers
March 4, 2020
I was in my daughter's middle school library when the librarian--who knows me all too well--pointed out that she just had a box of books delivered. Of course I dove in, and this was the first one I knew I had to borrow.

This is the true story of Somalian refugee Omar, who had to flee to a Kenyan refugee camp at four years old with his nonverbal little brother. His father had been killed, and he could only hope his mother was alive...somewhere.

It's about how he kept going, surrounded by the people in the camp who became a surrogate family, touched by outsiders who visited and inspired him to keep dreaming, facing internal and external obstacles.

His story--beautifully turned into a graphic novel by the amazing Victoria Jameison (ROLLER GIRL)--is moving and hopeful, sad and frustrating, and is laced with both gentle humor and unflinching honesty.

It is perfectly done for the middle school crowd (ages 9-12) on up, creating a better understanding of people who lived completely differently lives than we did, filling the reader up with empathy, and inspiring them to always keep dreaming while doing the work to catch those dreams.

This is the kind of book that stays with you, and I'm so glad it ended up in my hands. (Though since I have to return this copy to my friend, I'm buying my own for my kids.)
Profile Image for disco.
562 reviews221 followers
February 4, 2021

Donate, educate yourself, and please stop wasting food.
Profile Image for Abby Johnson.
3,373 reviews313 followers
December 9, 2019
Oh my heart. This book. This is a must-read.

Omar Muhammed's graphic novel memoir (written with powerhouse graphic novel author Victoria Jamieson) presents his story of fleeing war-torn Somalia and arriving at a Kenyan refugee camp at age 4 with his little brother. They had no idea if their mother was alive or dead. And they lived in that refugee camp until Omar was 18 years old and was finally resettled to the United States.

This is an eye-opening real life story of life in a refugee camp and of one boy who didn't quit going to school, doing his chores, and putting one foot in front of the other, even when he didn't have high hopes that anything in his life would ever change.

Maybe it's me, but I had never really considered that there were people (LOTS of people) actually living long-term in refugee camps. Whole lives. So this book was incredibly eye-opening to me and it deserves a wide audience. It's written with a lot of heart and it's just an unforgettable story.
Profile Image for Christy.
3,814 reviews32.4k followers
June 28, 2021
4.5 stars

When Stars Are Scattered is a stunning and emotional memoir by Omar Mohamed. It brought me to tears more than once and for a middle grade really packed a punch. Stories like this always make me remember how much we truly have and take for granted compared to so many others. Highly recommend this one, I'm going to check out the graphic novel as well, but the audiobook was fantastic.

Audio book source: Libby
Story Rating: 4.5 stars
Narrators: full cast, Faysal Ahmed voices Omar
Narration Rating: 5 stars
Genre: Middle Grade/Memoir
Length:3h 42m

Profile Image for Jessaka.
887 reviews120 followers
April 30, 2022
It’s the full package
that I loved,
but in the end,
it is the story
of two boys living in a refugee camp
somewhere in Kenya,
having fled the war in Somalia.

It is not just a book that talks
but one that plays beautiful
Middle Eastern music.
One with many voices
even that of goats and birds
and water and children,

I heard the sounds of laugher,
of tears, and of anger.
It was all a new experience for me,
a book like that of old-time radio
but so much better.

Two boys had lost their mother, not to death but to separation during the war, and they were placed in a refuge camp. The older boy caring for his little brother, a child who could speak but for one word, the oldest in the universe. A boy who lived with seizures, his loss, and his fears. While safe from harm, from the war, they were always hungry, and as the older boy said, you get used to it. You live with it. Yes, there were food rations, given every two weeks or so, but they never lasted. Yet when Ramadan came, they fasted. Such was the perfection of their faith.

They lived in tents and had many of their other needs met, but as the boy said, “It could get boring.” So, he started school, staying away from home for hours a day while others took care of his little brother.

And by the time this book ended, the newness of having sound effects had faded, and I was left with the sadness of knowing that there are people who have been separated from their homes and their families, who had even lost them to death. Whose lives have been on hold for many years. Waiting. But I knew all this before. It just became more personal. Personal, as knowing and seeing the ill- treatment of the men, women, and children at our own boarders.

Don’t think of this book as a children’s book but as a religious experience, one of faith, love and hope.
Profile Image for Jonas.
180 reviews13 followers
December 7, 2022
A student let me borrow her copy of When Stars are Scattered. She strongly recommended it. Once I started it, I couldn’t put it down. It is such a powerful and moving story, especially because it is a first hand account. If you were moved by When Stars are Scattered, I strongly recommend Katherine Applegate’s book, Home of the Brave.

This graphic novel explores the responsibility to family, finding love and care from community, gratitude, and perspective. I absolutely loved the friendships forged in this book and how soccer helped them escape and be kids. We get to see the very different experiences and expectations for education in regards to boys and girls.

Two memorable and meaningful quotes are:

“When God gives you a gift, it is your job to use it.”

And this exchange . . .

“Stay in school. Prepare yourself and educate yourself, so you can be ready when God reveals his plan to you.”
“But it’s like a prison here.”
“You’re alive aren’t you? You’re going to school? Life is only a prison if you make it one. Think of this more like… God’s waiting room.”
Profile Image for Shaye Miller.
1,236 reviews81 followers
November 11, 2020
I would easily name this book one of the most important books I’ve read in 2020 to encourage understanding and empathy. This story is autobiographical, friends. Co-author Omar Mohamed is the Somali man who lived the story and dedicated himself to sharing it with the world. He flawlessly addresses poverty, illness, parental loss, disabilities, immigration, education, sexism, and SO much more in this book. It’s full of sadness and devastation, but there’s a continual thread of optimism throughout as faith gave refugees the courage to always be patient and never give up hope. Any time something good happened to them, they would continue to ask: Why us? There are so many others more deserving. While this is a graphic novel, I have to give a HUGE yell out for the audiobook. I listen to a lot of books while I work around the house or in the yard and this would definitely make my five all-time favorite audiobooks. There were multiple narrators and the sound effects were so realistic that sometimes I forgot they weren’t happening in my own home. There’s an important Afterword about Omar and Hassan, but I won’t share all the finer details here for those who don’t want to know the outcome. But for more information about Omar Mohamed and what he’s up to today, you can visit https://www.refugeestrong.org/ And one final note: If there’s a new refugee in your community, take the opportunity to introduce yourself and open yourself up to learning about them and their story.

For more children's literature, middle grade literature, and YA literature reviews, feel free to visit my personal blog at The Miller Memo!


After starving in a dirty refugee camp for years, he became a pool attendant in a club where guests were Tiger Woods and George Bush. He eventually got his degree from the University of Arizona International Development with an emphasis on development in Africa and he and Hassan officially became American citizens in 2014.

Also, hooyo is the only word that Hassan says.
Profile Image for Krista.
424 reviews1,024 followers
January 11, 2022
What a beautiful graphic memoir. Omar tells his story of growing up in a refugee camp in Kenya. This book deals beautifully with quite a few difficult situations - loss of parents, a brother with a huge heart but some disabilities, poverty, and more. I loved how Omar persevered through it all, learning to trust others to care for his brother, Hassan, when he went to school. I thought this book was a great picture into life as a refugee and inspires compassion and understanding in the reading of it. Fantastically done.

Oh, and since it's a graphic novel I should also say I love Victoria Jamieson's art style. It was simple and cartoonish, but I found the pictures very appealing. They added understanding to the setting and story. So well done.
Profile Image for Tatiana.
1,401 reviews11.7k followers
January 10, 2021
3.5 stars

As an adult reader of a clearly children's book, I understandably wanted much more from this story of an orphaned Somali boy living for over a decade at a refugee camp. However, I do hope this book reaches a lot of young readers so that they learn empathy early and don't grow up into adults gleefully posting disgusting memes about border walls, cages and Ilhan Omar on facebook.
Profile Image for Scottsdale Public Library.
3,223 reviews209 followers
July 30, 2020
This is one of those books that will stick with you for a long time and make you truly think about what is important in life.
What these people have been and are going through is unbelievable, yet it is still happening. Definitely, a must read for all ages and every classroom should use it as a teaching tool. A heart wrenching, yet uplifting story...fantastic! -Jen K.

"I thought back to what Jeri told me, years ago. None of us ask to be born WHERE we are, or HOW we are. The challenge of life is to make the most out of what you've been given."

AMAZING! One of the very best books. The illustrations and colored pictures are stunning and add to the story, but most importantly Omar and Hassan's story of perseverance and hope is inspiring. So many emotions felt as you learn about Omar, his story, and the lives of so many people in the Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya. There were tears of sadness as well as tears of joy. Definitely a read for all ages.
~Megan G.
Profile Image for Jessica.
Author 31 books5,632 followers
October 3, 2021
A beautiful book, the true story of a boy and his beloved brother, and their life in a refugee camp. I didn't know what to expect, except that everyone loved it, and my daughter was urging me to read it, and . . . wow. I was in tears several times, but they were happy tears at the end.
Profile Image for Bethany (Beautifully Bookish Bethany).
2,046 reviews3,444 followers
April 28, 2021
I listened to the audio version of this which was very well produced including sound effects, but was an interesting experience as it was adapted from a graphic novel. When Stars Are Scattered is a moving memoir written for a middle grade audience about the experience of growing up in a refugee camp.

Omar and his younger brother Hassan (who cannot speak and sometimes has seizures) are refugees who fled Somalia after the death of their father. They were separated from their mother and placed with a guardian in a refugee camp in Kenya. Omar lived there from the time he was a young child until he was around 19 years old and this story recounts the experience of being a child and coming of age in those circumstances. It is both a difficult and hopeful story.

Omar talks about hunger, lack of food and water, uncertainty about the future, young girls being married to much older men, and finally getting to attend school at around 10 years old. This lays out the lived experience of the author, but is written in a way that is appropriate for and accessible to children. Omar has a message about how determination and faith can get you through difficult times and lead to hope for the future. He now works as a social worker assisting refugees being resettled in the United States. This is well worth reading as an adult and a book I would love to see more children exposed to as well. The lack of resources for refugees is a serious issue and the end of the book offers ways to help. I received an audio review copy of this book from the publisher. All opinions are my own.
Profile Image for Skip.
3,288 reviews395 followers
August 1, 2020
This is the true story of Somalian refugee Omar Mohamed, who fled to Dadaab, a massive Kenyan refugee camp at age 4, with his little brother when his father was killed, and they are separated from their mother. A kind older woman "adopts" the two boys, but life is a struggle for everyone in the camp. Omar's little brother doesn't speak and Omar won't leave him. Eventually, he is convinced to go to school, where he excels and interviews for a chance to emigrate. Years go by, Omar's hopes fade, and he becomes resigned to his fate. Jamieson does an excellent job of telling Omar's story. Besides the heartbreak of being a refugee with no future, this book also plumbs social issues, such as the plight of Muslim women, and intolerance. The artwork is very good, as is the messages that small kindnesses matter and miracles do sometimes happen.
Profile Image for Darla.
3,345 reviews526 followers
January 4, 2021
Be like a star. Shine your light. Shine your story.
(From 'A Poem of Stars' by Maryam Farah)

Victoria Jamieson and Omar Mohamed have given us a gift by sharing his story of growing up in a Kenyan refugee camp. The scope and breadth of the camps is so much bigger than we can imagine. Graphics like the celebration of Eid show us the immense numbers that occupy these camps. Omar and his disabled brother Hassan sleep in the dirt for years. They wait and wait for those coveted interview opportunities. It is heartbreaking to read about the wait for water, the 'empty days,' the crowded school rooms, playing with plastic bags for balls and swings, a game making bricks out of mud. . . We are so blessed and unaware of what is happening in the world until we read stories like these. May we search for opportunities to be a blessing to immigrants like Omar.
Profile Image for Amy | Foxy Blogs.
1,409 reviews971 followers
June 26, 2021
Wow, I've read some really good middle-grade books this year that deal with tough subjects. These books are opening up dialogue for kids on some hard-hitting topics.

Not until I got to the end of the book did I find out this was a graphic novel memoir about Omar Mohamed's experience of being a refugee in Kenya. His journey to get to America started when he was 4 years old in a refugee camp. It took 15 years before he made it to America.

I listened to this graphic novel but I also have a digital copy so I could see how the author designed the book.

When Stars Are Scattered packs a powerful punch.
Audio book source: Library
Narrator: full cast
Length: 3H 42M
Profile Image for Rod Brown.
5,286 reviews174 followers
May 21, 2020
Victoria Jamieson dramatizes (and fictionalizes) the story of co-author Omar Mohamed, a Somalian boy who spent most of his childhood without his parents in a refugee camp in Kenya with his brother, a person with disabilities. While it may be a bit too long for its intended juvenile audience, I found it an engaging and inspiring story of brotherhood, friendship, foster families, education, perseverance, and hope.
Profile Image for Jasmine.
1,133 reviews41 followers
December 9, 2020

I've been wanting to read a graphic novel all year, but I just haven't been able to afford them (though I understand completely why they're priced so highly!) and my library doesn't offer graphic novels. So when a friend told me she had this and would lend it to me, I was so excited! I can confirm that this book is everything that people gush about it and more. I will say that I didn't cry until the afterword, The illustrations in this novel are truly divine, so creative and easy to follow. The narrative was well written the whole way through, and the story truly touched my heart. I'm so glad I had the opportunity to read this!
Profile Image for Diz.
1,562 reviews87 followers
June 20, 2021
This is a very moving account of two young Somali brothers living in a refugee camp. The art is deceptively cute, but the content is soul crushing at times. It's an issue that deserves more attention, so it is well worth a read. When you've finished reading it, pass it along to a kid so that they can understand how difficult some people have it in this world. Who knows? You might just inspire the next generation of social workers.
Profile Image for Bridgette.
644 reviews12 followers
April 7, 2020
This should be required reading for pretty much every human on the planet. There is so much hope in this, along with unimaginable heartbreak. I nearly sobbed at the end of the story and at his author's note. It's perfect for middle grade readers, and everyone beyond that age. A heart-breaking, yet hopeful, look into the story of one refugee and his journey out of the refugee camp.
Profile Image for Rowan :) (Taylor’s version).
120 reviews8 followers
September 26, 2022
I read this a few years ago so I don't remember much, but I will say this:
I do not cry when I read books. I never do. Never have. I just don't...Not once have I cried. Honestly.

I did when I read this. I did. Messy, ugly crying. I s o b b e d. It was so s a d. And so b e a u t i f u l.

Go read this book RIGHT NOW.
Profile Image for Martha☀.
685 reviews33 followers
January 21, 2022
Omar and Hassan Mohamed grew up in a Kenyan refugee camp, having fled Somalia as young, young children (aged approx 3 and 4). Separated from their mother during their flight and having witnessed the death of their father, Omar is forever dreaming of finding their mom and returning to farm in Somalia. But as the days, months and years roll by, his goals evolve to those of getting an education and finding a way out of the refugee camp. After 15 years (!!), Omar's dreams are realized.
Omar's story is told in this graphic novel and it is a powerful story, made gentler through Jamieson's artwork. This book, revealing the stark realities of day-to-day hunger, disappointments, community and hope in a refugee camp, is made accessible to readers of any level.
This is my first graphic novel, which I read solely to fill a Bingo square for a reading challenge. I am glad to have stretched out of my comfort zone for this.
Profile Image for Toni Rose Deanon.
395 reviews5 followers
April 16, 2020
Profile Image for Union County Library.
330 reviews28 followers
August 26, 2022
This story of two refugee boys, Omar and Hassan, brings to light the everyday life of refugees around the world as these two brothers struggle to survive and escape their situation. They play soccer, they make friends, and they learn whom to avoid in their "Hooverville" in Kenya. With their parents missing, the older brother Omar becomes the caretaker of his younger, non-verbal brother Hassan, and he weighs every decision on the rewards and the risks. This graphic novel gives a glimpse of a rarely seen side of the world and presents Omar as someone to cheer for more than anyone else in the story. I would suggest this for ages 8 and up.

- Reviewed by John T.
Profile Image for Rachel Aranda.
879 reviews2,260 followers
January 14, 2022
4.5 stars

This was a really nicely written and illustrated graphic novel styled memoir. There were parts that my heart felt torn and teared up a bit especially in Part 2. Definitely can recommend this graphic novel/memoir as it’s a good way to introduce topics that refugees experience in their lives and what the resettlement process is like. There’s so many good topics brought up throughout the story and it got me eager to continue reading.
Profile Image for Sarah Swann.
729 reviews986 followers
March 28, 2022
Wow, I loved this. I cared so much about these children and what they were experiencing. I just wanted to help. They are strong and hard working kids who are put into a situation they don't want to be in. Things seemed so hopeless for so long. I really admire Omar and his strength and how hard he works to get to where he is today. What an inspiration!
Profile Image for Kim Tyo-Dickerson.
422 reviews15 followers
March 28, 2021
Being a library kid, my son, 12-years-old, has a few pretty awesome perks. One of the best is always being able to help me open shipments with dozens of boxes of new books, and excitedly choosing which of them to take home first, breathing in the fresh, new book smell and opening fresh, never read pages. Two copies of When the Stars Are Scattered were in my new graphic novels box in the shipment and he grabbed one of them along with a large stack of other books to bring home to read.

I watched him read Omar Mohamed and his little brother Hassan's story the first time through with his brow wrinkled, eyebrows knitted together, and pages flying, peering closely at Victoria Jamieson's illustrations and panels, following the story of the two orphan boys from Somalia who flee soldiers who killed their father and attacked their village and find themselves sick and on their own in the Dadaab Kenyan refugee camp. Maybe my boy saw something of his own story as a transracial adoptee from Ethiopia, maybe he was forging a connection to these other African children, Omar, Hassan, and the other children in the camp, allowing a very different story of grief, waiting, community and found family to bring insights into his own history of loss and love.

When he finished reading that first time, he put it aside and read a different book. Then later that night, I found him reading When Stars Are Scattered again. And multiple times thereafter, I found my library copy laying beside his bed where he was re-reading favorite parts or I would find it under the pillows on the couch where he was reading it again another day. He loved it so much, I quickly realized I would need to buy him his own copy, and so I did and that's the copy I just finished reading.

I asked him to share some of the reasons he re-reads this book so often:

"It's compelling. You want to know what happens to them. Even when you know, you just start again and want to watch it happen. It has elements about what life really is: sadness, loss, desperation, but also the idea of home being wherever family is and that friends can be family sometimes. Loss is very hard, especially if you've dealt with it more than one time. And they were the lucky ones. We might think that they had it really bad, but they had it really good compared to some people who didn't make it."

Then I asked him what ages he would recommend this book for: "I would say 11 or 12, maybe 13 or 14. It's not scary, but it is very sad. And if you really want someone to know what's happening in the book, they have to understand what's happening in the world."
Profile Image for Ms. B.
2,905 reviews34 followers
August 6, 2020
I was in no hurry to finish this graphic novel about Somali brothers Omar and Hassan who grow up in a Kenyan refugee camp. If the 2021 Newbery committee is looking for a second graphic novel to reward with a gold medal, this is a worthy contender.
Could a graphic novel win 2 years in a row? It's possible. This co-authored story was originally meant to be a memoir for adults.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 3,811 reviews

Can't find what you're looking for?

Get help and learn more about the design.