Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Azzi In Between, by Sarah Garland

Azzi In Between
If you're under 10 it's a picture book. If you're over 10 it's a graphic novel. Either way, however old you are or whatever you want to call it, this is a remarkable book.

The story starts in Azzi's small but comfortable whitewashed home in an unnamed, war-torn county. Azzi jumps over the rubble to get to school and helicopters and gunfire fill the air, though for a while the war seems to have no real impact on Azzi's life. Until the day her family is forced to flee at a moment's notice and fight to board a tiny boat that they desperately hope will sail them to safety.

Disembarking in an unfamiliar Britain and living in a single room, Azzi's family struggle to adapt to their new life. They miss the Grandmother they left behind, their familiar home. The food and the language are unfamiliar- Azzi's father becomes depressed because he cannot find work. The family's immigration status is unsettled. Azzi goes to a local primary school and has a helper that teaches her English. She too has fled her home country. It's a story essentially about the ability of the human race to pick themselves up and carry on, and is a testament to the determination and bravery of immigrant and refugee families.

The author and illustrator of this book has created a beautiful story about family, hope and resilience which is a wonderful story in its own right. But what she has also done is create a story that can teach thousands of children and adults about the plight of the refugee. The displacement, the fear and struggle that would seem so impossibly alien to people in Britain. It's a story that could be given or read to real-life refugees to ease them into their new lives and to provide familiar, relatable stories.

I love how much of the story comes out through the images. We see Azzi's family hurriedly packing up their belongings in their colourful, attractive house painted in vibrant colours and detail- then we see them living in a drab single room, coloured in greys and beige. So much of the narrative can be inferred by the pictures alone- the colours, the composition, the expressions and body language of the characters. The art is so expressive. A non-English speaker would not struggle at all. A brilliantly told, beautifully executed story about lives that seem so unfamiliar and so distant. Sarah Garland never patronises or preaches, she handles the subject with compassion and understanding.

This book made me feel lucky that I have never had to experience anything like what the main character and her family endured. It made me want to find out more about normal, everyday life in war-torn locations and how families and individuals cope with living in conflict zones. It made me understand why people go to impossible lengths to make dangerous journeys accross the English Channel and other sea-borders.

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