This is a powerful and extremely vivid story about the plight of the Syrian Kurds. Seen through the eyes of 13-year-old Dilly, we follow her journey from living in a warm and loving family group with seven brothers and sisters to becoming a refugee as the ‘black plague’ of ‘ratmen’ as Dilly calls the ISIS fighters sweep across Sryria leaving devastation in their wake. The author was inspired to write the book after witnessing the huge numbers of refugees on the Turkish/Syrian borders and hearing their stories
The story opens with a shocking scene – Dilly thinks she has just witnessed her toddler sister’s Hira’s beheading. Her father and five brothers are away fighting in the Kurdish army and her mother and Dilly’s other sister Elif were last seen being taken away in a truck. One of the villagers, Rehana, one of a band of female warriors looks after Dilly and promises to help her find her family. They are all in this together. She suggests that Dilly writes about what is happening in a diary and sitting under a pomegranate tree – the sweetness of the fruit reminding Dilly of her family and the bitterness the arrival of the ratmen – she begins to write. Through the pages of Dilly’s diary we see her hopes and fears tempered with courage and determination and a fierce longing to re-unite her family.
Interspersed between the horrors of flight and survival we catch glimpse of her life before the crisis living in rural village community with a pack of loyal dogs whom are very much part of the family. When Dilly and her mother and sisters have to leave the dogs behind when they are forced to flee their village they are heartbroken. Some US soldiers tell Dilly they know her father and brothers are alive but in prison and tell her about their bravery in battle. After an airstrike Rehana takes Dilly to safety across a minefield over the border into Turkey and Dilly hears more good news that her little sisters have been spotted walking in the direction of their home. But they are walking straight into danger so Dilly hatchers a daring plan to bring them to safety. The rescue is terrifying and extraordinarily brave but by the end of the story Dilly has her family almost all back.
The tale is beautifully written in a direct and striking way and is very moving; you get a real sense of how ordinary people’s lives are affected. The horrors are not sugar-coated yet the solidarity and strength of the family bonds of the Kurdish people and their warmth and courage shine through. This is an important book and should be in every secondary school library.