the unwanted: stories of the syrian refugees

In my spare time, I like to read fiction. If you’re familiar with my blog, you’ll know I especially lean toward the science fiction and fantasy end of the fiction spectrum. However, as a teacher, I must often read beyond my personal preference to find texts that will inform as well as entertain. Add that to the fact that my students prefer graphic novels (and why wouldn’t they – they’re accessible texts!), and I find myself searching graphic novel lists for nonfiction to incorporate in my classroom library. One excellent nonfiction graphic novel I read a few years ago (and put on the bookcase afterward), The Unwanted: Stories of the Syrian Refugees by Don Brown, has been quite popular with my 9th and 11th grade students.

the unwanted: stories of the syrian refugees by don brown book cover
In the tradition of Don Brown’s critically acclaimed, full-color nonfiction graphic novels The Great American Dust Bowl and Sibert Honor winning Drowned City, The Unwanted is an important, timely, and eye-opening exploration of the ongoing Syrian refugee crisis, exposing the harsh realities of living in, and trying to escape, a war zone.

Starting in 2011, refugees flood out of war-torn Syria in Exodus-like proportions. The surprising flood of victims overwhelms neighboring countries, and chaos follows. Resentment in host nations heightens as disruption and the cost of aid grows. By 2017, many want to turn their backs on the victims. The refugees are the unwanted.

Don Brown depicts moments of both heartbreaking horror and hope in the ongoing Syrian refugee crisis. Shining a light on the stories of the survivors, The Unwanted is a testament to the courage and resilience of the refugees and a call to action for all those who read.

Don Brown’s book is haunting nonfiction that outlines the ongoing conflict in Syria and shares individual anecdotes of Syrian refugees fleeing that violence. He keeps the context streamlined – this is not a sprawling war epic, but a general timeline peppered with vignettes to personalize the sheer scope of the war and its consequences. In retelling personal stories of some of the 6 million refugees, Brown does not delve too deeply into sectarian or religious divides, but instead outlines the enormity of the need, and the proportionally tiny U.S. response. The Unwanted is a brutal indictment of American self-absorption.


I don’t know what you remember about your teenage years, but I remember having a rapacious curiosity about the world – wanting to know (or experience) all of the things my parents had deemed me too young for, or had perhaps purposely left out of my education. I see that same thirst for knowledge in many of my students: they’re angry at the state of the world, constantly taking in new information, and want to know WHY they were never told about some of the deep inequalities and tragedies of the past and the present. They want to know why we don’t tell the dark secrets – why we aren’t honest. I believe that books like The Unwanted are exactly the sort of texts that we can and should share with children. I don’t mean to prove that we do care, or to absolve ourselves, but to keep stories alive, and to look the truth straight on and without flinching.


Brown clearly means for this title to be educational – it is especially suited for use in politics and current events (even years after its first publication!!) units. The content is sobering, tragic, and at times violent. I can envision pairing it with Elie Wiesel’s Night, or in a graphic novel unit with Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis or Art Spiegelman’s Maus.


As a graphic novel, it’s important to address the art style. Brown uses pen and ink with digital paint in washed out colors – a palette of browns and grays for the most part. This color scheme matches the seriousness of the content. Brown’s illustrations are quite spare – facial expressions are not very clearly depicted, and the linework at time feels sparse as well. When first reading the book, I did not love the art style – but I came around – I think it is as necessary and important to the storytelling as the anecdotal, vignette-style prose.


In all, The Unwanted is one of the most honest, unvarnished graphic novels for young adults on the refugee experience – and I’ve read a fair few. Its honesty asks something of its reader. I think the world needs more books like it.


Recommended for: readers ages 12 and up; it is necessary reading.

No comments:

Newer Posts Older Posts Home