Deborah Ellis starts her new novel, No Safe Place, in the middle of the action, no “Hi, I’m so and so.” Instead Abdul, the fifteen-year-old protagonist, is introduced at the end of his time in Calais, France, where he lives in a migrant’s camp as a refugee from Iraq. Your adventure with Abdul starts the second you open the book.
What happens in No Safe Place is very harsh and not easy-going. The book is constructed with three flashbacks, one for each main character. The other main characters are Rosalia and Cheslav.
Rosalia is a Roma teenager from the Czech Republic, who travels to Germany, and then on to Calais. She was raped in the Czech Republic. Then men came and lied to her uncle, telling him that Rosalia was to be protected and work in a factory for them. The men that lied had a sex business, and she was almost raped again in Germany. But smart Rosalia escaped.
In Berlin, Rosalia came across a graveyard that had a whole section devoted to the Roma people who were killed by the Nazis. The Roma people wanted to have freedom, not to be put in concentration camps and killed. Seeing the graveyard inspired Rosalia to run away from the men who bought her.
I have learned a lot of things from reading this book, not all of them pleasant. One thing I learned was about the Nazis and the Holocaust. I learned that the Nazis killed six million Jewish and half a million Roma people. The way they got killed was in concentration camps (my mom told me this). The Jewish or Roma people dug a grave and then the Nazi soldiers shot them. Another form was a Nazi soldier said they would get a shower. The shower head did not spray water but instead it shot out poisonous gas. The Jewish or Roma people died then.
When my parents told me this I was so upset that I couldn’t go on reading. No Safe Place has been a hard book to read. Remember there is no easy part.
Cheslav comes from Russia. He had lost his mother there. She was bought as a mail order bride. He thought his mother would come back for him, but she didn’t. He was living in an orphanage. He was put in a military school against his will. Then Cheslav was transferred to Moscow because he was an exceptionally good trumpet player at a young age. He didn’t want to die in a war, like one of his friends did. And so he escaped. All the way to Calais.
Abdul, the protagonist, lost his whole family in the Iraq war. He was only thirteen then. His father and brothers were killed by bombs and guns. Men in ski masks with machine guns killed his mother and foster sister. Then he made friends with Kalil. After something terrible happened he fled to Europe and traveled to Calais.
While reading, I became the character Abdul. When he was happy, so was I. This scene from the book made me cry:
He saw Kalil running toward him, his long hair bouncing with every bounce of Kalil’s body…. Then came shouting.
“Fag, homosexual! Disgrace!”
Abdul ran forward. He cradled Kalil’s bloodied body in his arms, stroking his long, lovely hair that was sticky with blood.
This scene made me cry because it was very sad. Kalil died in Baghdad, Iraq, after the US invasion. Kalil and Abdul had a lot in common. They both loved the Beatles and wrote music. They were best friends, too. They planned — before Kalil died — to go and collect every story and turn them all into songs.
Deborah Ellis, the author of No Safe Place, has received a lot of awards for her writing, including the Governor General’s Award for Children’s Literature, Sweden’s Peter Pan Prize, and the University of California’s Middle East Book Award. Ellis has raised over a million dollars from her book sales for charities that work with street kids and women in Afghanistan. She is forty-nine years old. Some of her books include: Mud City, Parvana’s Journey, and The Breadwinner Trilogy, which has been published in seventeen languages.
No Safe Place should be read with an adult if you are twelve years old or less. I learned that the hard way. Finally, it was amazing. You won’t regret reading it. In the end, the main characters barely make it to England, where—I forgot—I should not tell the ending!
Groundwood | 208 pages| $13 | Paper | ISBN #978-0888999740