This should be required reading for all middle grade students (middle school, or higher grades of elementary). Set in Brussels in 2016, amidst a series of terrorist attacks across Europe, the story alternates between two young boys - 14-year old Syrian refugee Ahmed, and 13-year old American ex-pat Max.
Ahmed and his father are fleeing Aleppo following the bombing of their home, which killed his mother and sisters. On the boatride, Ahmed's father is lost to the sea as he attempts to haul the boat to safety. Ahmed first follows another family to Brussels, but then attempts to make his own way in the city, finally finding refuge in the abandoned wine cellar of a house.
Max is from Washington, DC, but is living in Brussels with his family while his father completes a work contract. He is lonely, bored, and homesick, and is bullied at his all-French speaking school because he speaks only English.
The two meet by chance in the basement of Max's home, and become close friends, each filling a hole in the other's life. Along with a few new friends from school, they embark on an adventure to get Ahmed enrolled in school, despite the fact that he is an illegal immigrant. It's a story about the strength of friendship, about tolerance and understanding. Nowhere Boy compassionately describes the difficulties that refugees (and, in particular, Muslim refugees) face in trying to immigrate. It's a wonderful lesson in acceptance, even amid the chaos and fear created by acts of terrorism.
UP NEXT: Pet, by Akwaeke Emezi