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Coming of Age as Refugees

The coming-of-age story is ageless, but it has a special resonance for YA (young adult) readers. In what can be a lonely time, it invites them to connect with a character whose internal struggles are reassuringly familiar.

It might be that the difference between a good YA coming-of-age novel and a great one is scope. A great story takes young readers beyond introspection and pushes them out into a wider world. It offers contrasts that can be more compelling than similarities.

Here’s a short list of YA novels where the protagonists come of age as refugees. For these characters, leaving childhood behind also means leaving home, country and identity. Their internal struggles are swept up in global ones.

In a world experiencing unprecedented refugee crises, these books offer young adults a perspective not only on their own journeys, but on the otherwise unimaginable journeys that other young people are taking every day.

The other side of truth

After an assassination attempt on their father kills their mother, 12-year-old Sade and her little brother Femi are sent from Nigeria to London. When their uncle doesn’t show up to meet them, they’re left to rely on their own wits and the support of strangers.

The Other Side of Truth won Baidoo the 2000 Carnegie Medal for outstanding new book for children and young people.


Abdelrazaq’s debut graphic novel is based on her father’s experience of growing up in Baddawi, a refugee camp in Lebanon, after his family fled Palestine. Ahmad’s life in the camp is made of the everyday joys and sorrows of childhood, along with the extraordinary realities of life as a refugee.

A Time of Miracles

When the Soviet Union collapses, seven-year-old Blaise and the woman who has become his mother set off from Georgia for France – making the journey on foot. A Time of Miracles is the story of their five years as refugees on the road westward.

A Time of Miracles won of the 2011 Batchelder Award for the most outstanding children’s book translated into English for publication in the U.S.

Bamboo People

Narrators Chiko and Tu Reh are fifteen-year-old boys on opposite sides of internal conflict in Burma. Bookish Chiko has been forced into the same government army that burned down Tu Reh’s home. Tu Reh, now living a refugee camp, longs for revenge. Eventually their paths cross and the boys have to decide what kind of young men they want to be.  

90 Miles to Havana

In the aftermath of the Cuban Revolution, over fourteen thousand children were flown to exile camps in Miami. This autobiographical story follows one of them, nine-year old Julian, as he finds the confidence to make a new life for himself and his younger brother. 

Katie is a reader, editor and note taker who works as a Content Writer at Bookwitty. Originally from Wisconsin, she's at home in Dublin.


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