Tragic settings do not always make for top-class fiction, but this fine novel is an exception here. It is based on actual stories arising from the on-going middle-Eastern conflict with young characters taking the names of real children who have died as a result of it. Starting out in Syria, Ghalid and his family decide to escape to the Turkish border when the risks of bombing or forcible recruitment to a rebel army become all too apparent. Many adventures follow, with the family always just surviving, although prospects do not get any more optimistic with the passage of time and the amount of weary miles travelled on foot.
All the detail here carries the ring of truth. The author has researched her subject well and brings to life what it is actually like to live in a refugee camp or make a perilous sea crossing. Ghalid himself is a good, brave character, surrounded by a loving family right down to his endearing but crippled younger brother Aylan. There are some lighter moments too and even the start of a first love affair. Some readers even so may not feel up to getting involved in those darker events taking place in our own time and described here so vividly.
But this would be to miss out on a rich cast of characters and some excellent, taut writing. It can only be a good thing for children in the West to know what some of their contemporaries are having to live through elsewhere in this troubled world. Jane Mitchell has done her subject proud. Those moved by her book will at the very least feel better informed next time the subject of refugees and borders comes up as an issue.