2013 Laura Ingalls Wilder Award
Meli Lleshi is positive that her drawing of her teacher with his pelican nose started it all. The Lleshis are Albanians living in Kosovo, a country trying to fight off Serbian oppressors, and suddenly they are homeless refugees. Old and young alike, they find their courage tested by hunger, illness, the long, arduous journey, and danger on every side. Then, unexpectedly, they are brought to America by a church group and begin a new life in a small Vermont town. The events of 9/11 bring more challenges for this Muslim family--but this country is their home now and there can be no turning back.A compassionate, powerful novel by a master storyteller.
In this powerful, finely crafted novel, Paterson unveils the experience of Muslim Albanians in the Kosovo war through her memorable heroine, Meli, who turns 11 just as her family flees genocide. Through Meli's gaze, Paterson skillfully defines the culture of Kosovo, including the strictly defined gender roles, large extended families and social hierarchy that pits Serb against Albanian and looks down on families, like Meli's, from the countryside. News of the murder of 70 members of an Albanian family and the brief disappearance of Meli's 13-year-old brother, Mehmet, drive her family into exile: first in a mountain camp, then as refugees in Macedonia ("They might die, but they would at least die together," thinks Meli as her family is crammed into a crowded train) and finally to the United States. Lest readers feel distanced from the prejudice at the heart of this story, after 9/11, Meli and Mehmet endure taunting based on their heritage. Spanning vast distances and several years, Paterson offers a realistic and provocative account of these refugees' plight, balanced by the hope of new beginnings and the resilience of the human spirit. Ages 10 up.