Review Blog

Aug 02 2018

The boy at the back of the class by Onjali Q. Rauf

cover image

Orion, 2018. ISBN 9781510105010
(Age: 10+) Highly recommended. Themes: Friendship. Refugees. Bullying. Resilience. Tolerance. This is a really enjoyable story about 4 young friends at school who are intrigued by the mystery surrounding the new boy in the chair at the back of the class. They have many questions, but it is hard to find the answers; the boy Ahmet goes into 'Seclusion' in break times, and after school he is collected by a woman who doesn't seem to be his mother. He doesn't even seem to speak English. He is unlike anyone they've had in class before, a strange brave boy with the eyes of a lion. The friends gradually discover that Ahmet is a refugee child from war-torn Syria, and in his long trek across sea and land to find safety he has lost all family.
Learning that Britain is about to close its gates to refugees from Calais, the four children hatch plans to help Ahmet find his family before it is too late for him ever to be reunited with any of them. They come up with 'The Greatest Idea in the World'. But nothing ever goes smoothly, there are school bullies to contend with, and a bid to get help from the Queen leads to an amazing escapade which gets the attention of all the newspapers.
The story is narrated by a nine year old, and because the author does not give away whether it is a girl or boy speaking, each reader will identify in a way that suits them. And although the underlying subject matter is serious, the story has a lot of humour, particularly in revealing the thoughts and ideas of the nine year old friends. Drawings of their plans by illustrator Pippa Curnick add another element of fun.
Author Onjali Q Rauf is the person behind the 'Making Herstory' campaign for women's rights and prevention of abuse and slavery of women. She is also involved in delivering emergency aid packages to refugee families. The boy at the back of the class is her first novel, and is a wonderful way to draw in the interest of a young audience, helping them to understand issues that they can't help but overhear in the news and in adult conversations. The story is a great adventure, with themes of friendship, tolerance and understanding towards others.
Helen Eddy

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