When Stars Are Scattered by Victoria Jamieson and Omar Mohamed
This is the life story of Omar Mohamed, a young Somalian refugee growing up in Dabaab, a huge refugee camp in Kenya. Award-winning graphic novelist Victoria Jamieson illustrated Omar’s tale in an attempt to share his story, and the story of Dabaab and its residents, with a wider audience. The graphic novel format might at first seem an odd choice for such an intense storyline, but it works beautifully to bring the characters and camp to life.
Omar and his brother Hassan have been in the refugee camp for seven years when we meet them. Omar spends his days caring for Hassan who has intellectual and medical disabilities. His fierce love for Hassan and his commitment to keeping him safe is apparent throughout the story. Their father was killed when armed rebels invaded their village. In the chaos, Omar’s mother gave Hassan to him and told him to run. Separated from his mother and familiar neighbors, they end up living in the camp along with thousands and thousands of other refugees from many different African countries. Life in the camp is a bit boring; there are no toys and there’s never enough to eat, but the boys have friends, a caring foster parent, and each other. Omar longs to go to school, but worries about leaving Hassan unattended. Nimo and Miryam also love school and work very hard to succeed, but as girls, their path is much steeper. In addition to school work, they must also help with family chores, watch siblings, and face other cultural expectations.
Waiting is one of the prevalent themes of this novel – waiting for school to start, waiting in line for water, waiting for the food deliveries, and most of all, waiting and hoping for the coveted interview with UN officials who hold your future in their hands. Omar tells us often that none of the residents of Dabaab want to be refugees, that all of them long to return to their homeland, or barring that, the chance to be resettled in a safe place where they might do more than merely survive. Hope and hopelessness are both explored as various characters live and watch and wait.
I was quite moved by this novel. While the stated audience for this graphic novel is children grades 4 – 6, I recommend it for teens and adults as well. The illustrated first-person format succeeded in engaging not just my attention and emotions, but also my imagination and compassion. We often talk of books as being “mirrors and windows” – mirrors reflecting back our own experiences, or windows, allowing us a glimpse of another’s reality. I encourage you to look through the window that Jamison and Mohamed have shared with us.