Review Blog

Feb 28 2011

No safe place by Deborah Ellis

cover image

Allen and Unwin, 2011. ISBN 978 1742374709.
(Ages 12+) Highly recommended. Refugees. The picture of Abdul standing on the edge of Calais watching backpackers, oblivious to anyone else, showing their passports and getting on a ferry for England, secure in the knowledge that they have that privilege, stayed with me for the whole of this tense read. Other images rose up in my mind, but that one of the huge gulf between the two worlds that exists today, that of non refugees and refugees, remains with me.
As Abdul bravely claims a place on a boat leaving French soil the stories of the other passengers on that tiny boat are revealed. Once out in the channel, the boat owner turns on the refugees but they throw him overboard. Struggling to survive they wash up against a pleasure cruiser and in a strange turn of events take over the cruiser and head north west, knowing they will hit either England or Ireland. When they do they are helped by a young girl, oblivious to the political machinations behind these four children seeking a better life for themselves.
Their stories are harrowing, made up of a range of stories Ellis has heard while researching this book, revealing for our very sheltered readers what children of their age must contend with, things many of us will never see.  From the orphaned Chesley, holding on to an image of his mother through a series of Russian boys' homes before ending up in an army cadet school, to Rosalia, taken by her uncle's friend to Germany where they think she will be employed as a maid, to the nephew of the boat owner, Jonah, told that he is useless and a burden and finally Abdul, the main character of the story, holding a myriad of stories within him of unjustified persecution, loss and despair, this novel will firstly engender disbelief and then sympathy from its readers.
Ellis' fight for human rights, particularly for children scarred by war, forms a powerful sub text to this novel, and along with the multi award winning Parvana series, will be promoted within schools as part of a literature study of books about our contemporary world, or as a class text, and all students will follow Abdul's story with pleasure and empathy.
Fran Knight

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