No Safe Place by Deborah Ellis follows the lives of three teenage refugees: Abdul from Iraq, Cheslav from Russia, and Rosalia, a tough as nails, gypsy girl who says, “I don’t have a country. Some say we came first from India. Some say we came from the devil and should go back to him” (p. 184). They’ve all come a long way by different routes and find themselves in France. England is their destination. Everything changes once they decide to allow a shady smuggler help them cross the English Channel.
As events unfold in the present, Ellis uses flashbacks to give the reader glimpses into the tragic histories of each character. As you learn about each character, you find yourself in the land of dramatic irony. You are aware before the characters are that they have much in common but also that each can be an agent for healing in the life of the others. In spite of their tragic histories, you become hopeful that once they learn about each other, their solitary journeys becomes a journey of community.
I enjoyed reading this book and may suggest it to some of my higher proficient EL students. The desire to read books is always strengthened when a hesitant reader finds a home-run book, a book they can identify with causing them to consider that this whole reading thing might not be that bad. Additionally, for students who may not feel part of the story of the dominant culture, a book like this certainly communicates that their stories are worth telling.
This is an exciting, non-traditional text for anyone willing to be curious about the experience of refugee students. It’s filled with action, loss, heartbreak, meaning, and hope. You’ll cry and you’ll get angry. And when you finish, you’ll wish you had another book just like this one right next to you to go again.