Refugee - Summary

Alan Gratz

Refugee Book Cover


“Refugee” is a captivating and thought-provoking novel written by Alan Gratz. This gripping story takes readers on a journey through the lives of three young refugees from different time periods and backgrounds. Through their experiences, Gratz sheds light on the challenges and hardships faced by refugees around the world. This book summary will provide an overview of the key themes, characters, and plot points, highlighting examples and anecdotes from the book that make it a truly compelling read.

Josef: A Jewish Boy Fleeing Nazi Germany

The first character we encounter in “Refugee” is Josef, a Jewish boy living in Nazi Germany during the 1930s. As the Nazis intensify their persecution of Jews, Josef’s family decides to embark on a dangerous voyage aboard the MS St. Louis, a ship bound for Cuba. Gratz vividly portrays the fear and desperation felt by Josef’s family as they face the constant threat of being captured and sent to concentration camps.

One example that showcases Josef’s resilience and determination is when he befriends a young girl named Isabel on the ship. Despite their different backgrounds, they form a bond and support each other throughout their journey. This friendship serves as a powerful reminder that compassion and unity can transcend cultural and religious differences.

Isabel: A Cuban Girl Seeking Freedom

The second character we follow in “Refugee” is Isabel, a young Cuban girl living in 1994. Isabel’s family faces economic hardships and political unrest in Cuba, leading them to join a mass exodus of refugees attempting to reach the United States. Gratz skillfully portrays the dangers and uncertainties faced by Isabel and her family as they navigate the treacherous waters of the Florida Straits on a makeshift raft.

An anecdote that highlights Isabel’s courage is when she encounters a shark during their perilous journey. Despite the imminent danger, Isabel remains calm and quick-witted, using her resourcefulness to protect her family. This moment showcases her resilience and determination to find a better life, even in the face of adversity.

Mahmoud: A Syrian Boy Escaping War

The third character we meet in “Refugee” is Mahmoud, a Syrian boy living in the present day. Mahmoud and his family are forced to flee their war-torn homeland due to the ongoing conflict. Gratz provides a heart-wrenching account of the violence and destruction that Mahmoud witnesses, highlighting the devastating impact of war on innocent civilians.

One powerful example from the book is when Mahmoud’s family decides to embark on a dangerous journey across the Mediterranean Sea in a crowded boat. Gratz vividly describes the harrowing conditions and the constant fear of drowning that Mahmoud and his family face. This scene serves as a stark reminder of the risks that refugees are willing to take in search of safety and a better future.

Themes of Hope, Resilience, and Empathy

Throughout “Refugee,” Gratz explores themes of hope, resilience, and empathy. Despite the challenges they face, Josef, Isabel, and Mahmoud demonstrate unwavering hope for a better life. Their determination to overcome obstacles and protect their loved ones is truly inspiring.

Gratz also emphasizes the importance of empathy and understanding. Through the interactions between the characters, readers are reminded of the shared humanity that connects people from different backgrounds. This message of empathy is particularly powerful in today’s world, where refugees often face discrimination and prejudice.


In “Refugee,” Alan Gratz delivers a compelling and poignant narrative that sheds light on the experiences of refugees throughout history. Through the stories of Josef, Isabel, and Mahmoud, readers gain a deeper understanding of the challenges faced by individuals and families forced to leave their homes in search of safety and freedom.

Gratz’s use of examples and anecdotes from the book brings these characters to life, making their struggles and triumphs resonate with readers. “Refugee” serves as a powerful reminder of the resilience and strength of the human spirit, and the importance of compassion and empathy in a world marked by conflict and displacement.

As readers immerse themselves in the pages of “Refugee,” they are not only entertained but also educated about the plight of refugees. This book is a must-read for anyone seeking a deeper understanding of the refugee experience and the universal human desire for a place to call home.

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