cover image Welcome to Nowhere

Welcome to Nowhere

Elizabeth Laird, illus. by Lucy Eldridge. Macmillan, $8.99 paper (352p) ISBN 978-1-03503-473-4

This far-reaching novel by Laird (The Misunderstandings of Charity Brown) follows one family through the early years of the Syrian civil war, beginning in March 2011. Narrated in an emotionally honest voice by Omar—the middle child of five—the story opens when he is 12 and living in comfort in Bosra, where his father is a government employee. When war breaks out, life grows increasingly perilous. The family decamps to relatives’ homes—first a flat in Daara, then a farm in the countryside—before making a terrifying border crossing into Jordan, where they settle in the Za’atari refugee camp. Each character is imbued with individuality, particularly Omar’s oldest sister Eman, an aspiring teacher, and older brother Musa, who refuses to let bullying surrounding his cerebral palsy affect his intellectual acuity or education—or keep him from becoming involved in dangerous underground politics. Personal dynamics amid steadily deteriorating conditions, especially the thorny yet loving sibling relations, are strongly depicted. While the final events that move the narrative toward its optimistic closing feel somewhat cursory, thorough depictions of each phase of the family’s saga are immersive. Moody gray toned drawings by Eldridge (If a Horse Had Words) enhance the story’s grim ambiance; Laird’s opening and closing notes provide historical and personal context. Ages 9–11. (Aug.)