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World in Between: Based on a True Refugee Story

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The story of a Muslim boy’s exile from war-torn Bosnia to the United States.​ Kenan loves drawing and playing soccer with his friends. He wants to be a famous athlete, hates it when his classmates trash his buck teeth by calling him “Bugs Bunny,” and fights with his big brother, who’s too busy and cool for him lately. Sometimes his parents drive him crazy, but he feels love The story of a Muslim boy’s exile from war-torn Bosnia to the United States.​ Kenan loves drawing and playing soccer with his friends. He wants to be a famous athlete, hates it when his classmates trash his buck teeth by calling him “Bugs Bunny,” and fights with his big brother, who’s too busy and cool for him lately. Sometimes his parents drive him crazy, but he feels loved and protected—until the war ruins everything. Soon, Kenan’s family is trapped in their home with little food or water, surrounded by enemies. Ten months later, with help from friends and strangers, they finally make it out of the country alive. But that’s only the beginning of their journey.


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The story of a Muslim boy’s exile from war-torn Bosnia to the United States.​ Kenan loves drawing and playing soccer with his friends. He wants to be a famous athlete, hates it when his classmates trash his buck teeth by calling him “Bugs Bunny,” and fights with his big brother, who’s too busy and cool for him lately. Sometimes his parents drive him crazy, but he feels love The story of a Muslim boy’s exile from war-torn Bosnia to the United States.​ Kenan loves drawing and playing soccer with his friends. He wants to be a famous athlete, hates it when his classmates trash his buck teeth by calling him “Bugs Bunny,” and fights with his big brother, who’s too busy and cool for him lately. Sometimes his parents drive him crazy, but he feels loved and protected—until the war ruins everything. Soon, Kenan’s family is trapped in their home with little food or water, surrounded by enemies. Ten months later, with help from friends and strangers, they finally make it out of the country alive. But that’s only the beginning of their journey.

30 review for World in Between: Based on a True Refugee Story

  1. 4 out of 5

    Ms. Yingling

    E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus Kenan is a tween living in Brčko, Yugoslavia in the early 1990s. His family is Muslim, and while tensions are rising among religious factions, his father owns a popular local gym and feels that it is safe to stay. Kenan loves to play football (US soccer), but as the political situation worsens, he finds himself alienated from his teammates and friends at school. When asked if he is Bosnian, Yugoslavian, or Muslim, he replies "My country is Yugoslavia. I'm from the E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus Kenan is a tween living in Brčko, Yugoslavia in the early 1990s. His family is Muslim, and while tensions are rising among religious factions, his father owns a popular local gym and feels that it is safe to stay. Kenan loves to play football (US soccer), but as the political situation worsens, he finds himself alienated from his teammates and friends at school. When asked if he is Bosnian, Yugoslavian, or Muslim, he replies "My country is Yugoslavia. I'm from the Bosnian Republic. My religion is Muslim." For Kenan, it's that simple, and his family just wants to continue to live in peace. This of course, is not feasible. The family (parents and older brother Edin) is lucky enough to make their way to Vienna, where they have some relatives. It's not easy doubling up with another family, not having any space or privacy, and having to always be very quiet so as not to disturb their hosts. There are many refugees, and while the government is giving them a stipend, they don't necessarily want the refugees to take jobs from the locals, so they aren't allowed to get jobs. They apply to go to other countries, and eventually get clearance to go to the US. Kenan hopes to be in New York City or California, but the family is sent to a small town in Connecticut where they live with a woman named Barbara. She's welcoming enough, but after the family moves out, they find that she was taking money and gifts the family was given and keeping it for herself. The pastor who helps the family, Don, is much more helpful. Living with him and his wife is much better, and Kenan starts to make friends at his school and starts to enjoy life in the US. His parents are still looking for employment, and when the father gets a job, the family must move to a town nearby. Kenan is angry, but realizes that he can still keep in contact with his best friend, and he slowly starts to establish his new, US identity. Strengths: While it's hard to remember all the details of the moves Kenan and his family have to make, they do propel the story forward very quickly, which is perfect for middle grade readers. It also shows that leaving a country isn't a one step process. Even though the author came to the US a long time ago, I imagine that many refugee stories have similar trajectories. The details about living arrangements, experiences in school, and family tensions are all valuable for readers who have not living through this kind of situation to understand and appreciate. Kenan's interest in soccer has added appeal; many of my students from immigrant families are HUGE soccer fans, so this will be a good hook to get them to pick up the book. There aren't quite as many middle grade books that involve soccer. Weaknesses: While it would have slowed the story down a bit, some of my readers might benefit from a bit more information about the details of moving from country to country. It makes sense that those aren't there, however, since someone's Kenan's age probably wouldn't have understood everything that was going on. What I really think: Definitely purchasing, and I think that this will be a book frequently on display that will never make it back to the shelves. Surprisingly, the only book I have about this period of history is Mead's Adem's Cross from 1996.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Kirin

    I've read a lot of refugee stories over the years about people leaving a variety of countries, and while each one, no matter the quality of writing, is heartbreaking and important, this middle grades 384 page historical fiction/ fictionalized biography account stands out because it is written so incredibly well.  The story shows young Kenan's life before the Balkan War in Bosnia, a year of the war, life in Vienna, and then in the USA.  The book is personable, relatable, and informative.  I had a I've read a lot of refugee stories over the years about people leaving a variety of countries, and while each one, no matter the quality of writing, is heartbreaking and important, this middle grades 384 page historical fiction/ fictionalized biography account stands out because it is written so incredibly well.  The story shows young Kenan's life before the Balkan War in Bosnia, a year of the war, life in Vienna, and then in the USA.  The book is personable, relatable, and informative.  I had a very hard time putting it down despite knowing that the main character, the author, obviously survived; as the story is engaging and powerful and doesn't rely on the horrific war to carry the character building and story arcs alone.  The character identifies as Muslim, but doesn't actively practice or know much about Islam, sports and art are highlighted as universal activities that bridge cultures, language, and foster respect.  The book mentions drinking, kissing, hints at a crush, and features bullying, death, killing, and torture.  Suitable for mature fourth graders and up. SYNOPSIS: Kenan has a good life in Brčko, Yugoslavia, he is good at soccer, is an amazing artist, has a bunch of friends, a teacher he likes, loving extended family, his father owns a popular gym, and his mom is an office manager, sure his older brother picks on him sometimes and he gets called, "Bugs Bunny" because of his large protruding teeth, but when it all comes crashing down because of his religion, he is at a loss as to why it suddenly matters.  While neighbors and classmates start sneaking off in the night fearing that the Serbs are going to kill all the Muslims and Catholics, Kenan's dad holds out hope that he is well loved by everyone at his gym, no matter their religion.  But the family waits too long to leave, and friends, neighbors, classmates, and teachers quickly turn in to enemies.  Kenan's buddies threaten and abuse him, his favorite teacher holds him at gun point, and neighbors shoot holes in their water cans.  The family ultimately has to hunker down in their apartment without much water, food, and electricity.  They get to Kenan's aunt's house in a safe zone, but the men have to register and his father and brother are taken to a concentration camp.  Somehow they get released, but the family's troubles are just beginning.  Along the way they will be betrayed by people they thought they could trust and helped by people that they thought hated them- no matter the country, no matter people's religion.  The family will get to Austria and to Kenan's uncle, but even being away from war doesn't give them peace.  They don't speak the language, they can't work, they must take charity.  Eventually they find themselves in Connecticut, and while some American's make their difficult lives even worse, some prove to be absolute angels to a family that is trying to make a life in a new country while the war wages on back home. WHY I LIKE IT: I love that stories about the Balkan War are becoming more and more available, it is long overdue, and I'm glad that through literature, authentic voices are keeping the memory of the horrific acts from being forgotten.  The story is compelling, a few threads I wanted resolved that weren't (more information on his grandma, his uncle in Vienna, his aunt that they left behind), but the narrative is rich and does a great job staying relevant to its target audience and not overwhelming the reader with politics or sensationalized emotions.  The rawness of the experience being processed by the 11 year old protagonist is impactful enough and doesn't need to be exaggerated.  The book is not depressing, in fact there is a lot of joy and hope and kindness.   I love that Kenan acknowledges that he has been to the mosque once with his uncle, that they don't fast in Ramadan, but they do celebrate Eid.  It hints that at times they may drink, but they are good about not eating pork, although they eat jell-o. In shop class in the United States his first project is a replica of the mosque in their neighborhood.  Their names are known to be Muslim in Bosnia, and that is enough for them to endure the ethnic cleansing, belief or adherence, is not a factor. I love that sports and art are universal.  Math is too, but Kenan isn't good at math.  He wins accolades in each country for his drawings, and gets respect from classmates for his athletic ability.  Not speaking the language is hard, but being able to prove yourself in other ways is a salvation for Kenan.  He is on teams, he goes to the World Cup, he gets in fights, he is honored in the newspaper.  Life in general grounds him, yet soccer and drawing give him a release to excel in. I love the diversity of everyone in each country.  Heroes are seen in immigrants, minorities, Americans, a Methodist preacher, an Israeli bus driver, a Serb bus driver, a Serb soldier and his family, a .  There are awful immigrants, and white Americans, and Serbs- it really shows that some people are just good and kind, and some people are not, it isn't linked to any faith or country or culture or neighborhood or skin tone.  I was surprised that at no point were their other Muslims.   We got to know so many wonderful Bosnians in the 90s as our family helped them get settled, that I was really hoping there would be some in Connecticut working with the churches that helped settle Kenan and his family.  That isn't a critique of the book, though, just my disappointment in my fellow Muslim-Americans for not stepping up enough in real life to make the literary cut, I suppose. FLAGS: Violence, torture, death, bullying, killing, shooting, hints at sexual assault, physical assault, ethnic cleansing, genocide, war.  It mentions that Kenan's brother got to kiss a girl and have a drink, but nothing more detailed than that.  Kenan has a crush on a girl, but it manifests periodically as him just wondering if she survived and is ok. TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION: This book is on a short list for me to use next year for middle school book club.  It is a little below grade level for my group, but book club is supposed to be fun and not a burden, so I think it will be perfect.  The kids are going to absolutely love Kenan.  He is so relatable and personable, that I don't think any supplemental questions or discussion points will be needed.  Kids will have lots of thoughts about Islam in Bosnia, friends turn enemies, restarting in new countries again and again, anger at people that didn't step up, glee when people did, jealousy when he gets to go to a World Cup game, and hopefully empathy for so many who's world changed so quickly.  The biggest takeaways will be how it didn't take much to help, and I hope all readers will recognize that we can be kind and we can help and we can respect and care enough to truly help others.  

  3. 5 out of 5

    Pam

    I received an electronic ARC from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Children's Book Group through NetGalley. Powerful story about this author's journey from Yugoslavia during the war. His family was attacked and persecuted for being Muslims. Readers see the constant fear they lived under and everything they endured before they were able to escape to Vienna. From there, they were chosen to emigrate to the United States. Once there, readers see the difficulties of adjusting to a new country without money, I received an electronic ARC from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Children's Book Group through NetGalley. Powerful story about this author's journey from Yugoslavia during the war. His family was attacked and persecuted for being Muslims. Readers see the constant fear they lived under and everything they endured before they were able to escape to Vienna. From there, they were chosen to emigrate to the United States. Once there, readers see the difficulties of adjusting to a new country without money, jobs, a home or the ability to speak the language. Though those who have not experiences such a journey cannot completely understand, middle graders will be offered a direct window into this family's journey. OwnVoices books like this one help others learn from and respect others' life stories.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Val

    Link to my book talk: https://youtu.be/mFfgCOpu3C8 I really enjoyed reading and learning about the author's childhood. Middle graders will learn a lot of facts about the history and enjoy the well-written story. Readers will be touched by Kenan's hope for a better future. Link to my book talk: https://youtu.be/mFfgCOpu3C8 I really enjoyed reading and learning about the author's childhood. Middle graders will learn a lot of facts about the history and enjoy the well-written story. Readers will be touched by Kenan's hope for a better future.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Julie Overpeck

    Thank you to Netgalley and Clarion Books for a digital advanced copy. This memoir starts with 12-year-old Kenan and his family living in Yugoslavia. At first they notice that people are calling them and other Muslims names. Tensions rise and other Muslim families leave. Then his teacher, his TEACHER, points a gun at him and calls him a dirty Muslim. Eventually businesses close and they have no income. Their money in the bank is stolen, and they live on the kindness of strangers. When they finally Thank you to Netgalley and Clarion Books for a digital advanced copy. This memoir starts with 12-year-old Kenan and his family living in Yugoslavia. At first they notice that people are calling them and other Muslims names. Tensions rise and other Muslim families leave. Then his teacher, his TEACHER, points a gun at him and calls him a dirty Muslim. Eventually businesses close and they have no income. Their money in the bank is stolen, and they live on the kindness of strangers. When they finally manage to get out of the country, they stay with family and friends in Vienna. Finally a refugee group helps them secure visas to the US. The danger has passed, but they still have a long journey ahead, and they have to rely on the kindness of strangers to make it in their new country. I think this is a good book to spark discussions about tolerance, immigration, and refugees. While the circumstances of refugee stories are hard and the events are sad, they are also full of hope: hope that tomorrow will be better, hope that someone will show kindness and offer help, hope for a future.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Pamela

    Moving, inspiring and a must-read for everyone of any age (for the sensitive out there, have a tissue on hand!) While I have not personally experienced war during my youth. I connected so much with the main character who loses his childhood and sense of security during his country’s senseless war. This is a must-read book for those of all ages. Kenan, the main character, is a 12-year-old living an ordinary life who is crazy for sports including soccer “fudbal.” In a flash, his life totally change Moving, inspiring and a must-read for everyone of any age (for the sensitive out there, have a tissue on hand!) While I have not personally experienced war during my youth. I connected so much with the main character who loses his childhood and sense of security during his country’s senseless war. This is a must-read book for those of all ages. Kenan, the main character, is a 12-year-old living an ordinary life who is crazy for sports including soccer “fudbal.” In a flash, his life totally changes and he and his family are forced to leave their home and then their country. Kenan is betrayed by several people including, heartbreakingly, his mentor Mr. Miran, now apparently an anti-Muslim member of the military, who threatens to kill him with an AK-47 while Kenan is out buying bread for his family. The next day, this same former teacher shows up at Kenan’s family home and tells everyone to leave, again, threatening to kill everyone while brandishing the same AK-47. The family goes through a lot after they leave their home. Once the family makes it safely to the United States as refugees, there are a mix of both challenging and some lighter moments, but there is no question that Kenan and his family are heroes. As a reader, this book will stay with me on a emotional level. It was impossible to put down. I highly recommend it.

  7. 4 out of 5

    DaughterOfPoseidon

    This made my heart cry! 😭😭 it was so freakin sad!!! I absolutely loved how much detail it had, and, like, it’s a true story. So that is pretty amazing 🤩. I liked how Kenan would say something in his brain, but not say it out loud. Like how he thought his dad was wrong for staying in Bosnia. It felt like this was the true nature of a kid and I really enjoyed it. Definetly 5 stars.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Eileen Winfrey

    This is a good hard read about the author’s narrow escape from Bosnia in 1992 and his subsequent journeys with his immediate family as a refugee. He eventually settles in Connecticut (after some pretty harrowing experiences). Not a romantic portrayal in the least; very real and equal parts frustrating and inspiring. Also, I think it might be important for Americans to read a book about the genocide of Muslims at the hands of “Christians”. This happened so recently, it’s hard to believe.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Robin

    Thank you to Clarion Books and NetGalley for an advanced copy of this book. Given the current situation in Afghanistan, this book is very timely, This is the semi-autobiographical story of Kenan, a Muslim boy from Bosnia who is forced to leave his home due to the genocide of 1992-1995. Kenan encountered a lot of very bad people and discovered how easily many of his friends could turn against him when he needed them most. Kenan also met a lot of very kind people who went above and beyond to keep Thank you to Clarion Books and NetGalley for an advanced copy of this book. Given the current situation in Afghanistan, this book is very timely, This is the semi-autobiographical story of Kenan, a Muslim boy from Bosnia who is forced to leave his home due to the genocide of 1992-1995. Kenan encountered a lot of very bad people and discovered how easily many of his friends could turn against him when he needed them most. Kenan also met a lot of very kind people who went above and beyond to keep him and his family safe. This is a very inspiring story based on true events. It would be a great addition to any classroom or school library,

  10. 5 out of 5

    Mary

    Okay, so part of the reason this is 5 stars is because part of it takes place where I live and it is really cool to see where you live in a book. But the other reason is that it takes you into the world of a child whose life is turned upside down by a war brought about by religious prejudice. What he goes through in Bosnia is sad, but what is heart-breaking is the belief he holds onto that he will be able to go home. Excellent for SEL teaching as well as social studies.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Rosemary

    After reading the author’s earlier book, the Bosnia List, I wanted to read this young adult story of how he and his family came to the United States. In the voice of a child, he tells the bewildering story of how his family home in Bosnia suddenly was no longer a safe place to live. After growing up and going to school and playing fudball (soccer) with his friends in Yugoslavia, suddenly his Serbian friends and neighbors turned on him and his family, and life as he knew it was redefined forever. After reading the author’s earlier book, the Bosnia List, I wanted to read this young adult story of how he and his family came to the United States. In the voice of a child, he tells the bewildering story of how his family home in Bosnia suddenly was no longer a safe place to live. After growing up and going to school and playing fudball (soccer) with his friends in Yugoslavia, suddenly his Serbian friends and neighbors turned on him and his family, and life as he knew it was redefined forever. Kenan and his brother and parents are Muslim, and the Serbs wanted them dead and gone. After hiding awhile in their own home without food, water or electricity, they were able to escape to Vienna where they found refuge in a basement with his uncle and his family. There they waited in limbo until they could get plane tickets and sponsors to move to the USA. From a child’s point of view, this adult war is even more poignant and confusing; how can your home be gone, your friends wish you dead, where do you fit in in the world? He learns there are good and bad people everywhere, and how to navigate a new life, over and over again, finding home and friendship again, and a place for his art and soccer, too.

  12. 5 out of 5

    LS Johnson

    This book is autobiographical, it is brutally honest and some parts are hard to read. I wish it wasn’t true, but it is. Thank you Kenan for the truth that a middle grade person can understand. I hope it generates interest in this perhaps forgotten time period.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Heather Jennings

    World in Between tells the account of a Bosnian family of four escaping the conflict during the breakup of Yugoslavia. Kenan is a boy, confused at how the religious conflicts have caused his close friends and teachers to turn against him. The family loses everything it possesses, but everyone survives. The book follows their escape outside the boundary of Bosnia and follows them through several moves eventually landing in Connecticut. The author admits that the account is based on his recollectio World in Between tells the account of a Bosnian family of four escaping the conflict during the breakup of Yugoslavia. Kenan is a boy, confused at how the religious conflicts have caused his close friends and teachers to turn against him. The family loses everything it possesses, but everyone survives. The book follows their escape outside the boundary of Bosnia and follows them through several moves eventually landing in Connecticut. The author admits that the account is based on his recollections of his experiences from ages 11 to 13. The text serves as a springboard for discussions about Yugoslavia, bigotry, religious conflict, bullying and immigration. Despite knowing that the story has a positive outcome, the book itself proof, we readers care for Kenan and his family members on throughout their journey and cheering for his artistic and athletic victories. This book is best suited for upper elementary and middle grades. At times early in the book, the dialogue felt a bit awkward, but that issue dissipated quickly. Thank you NetGalley and HMH/Clarion for this ARC in exchange for my unbiased opinion.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Ellen Trufant

    My daughter knows the author and recommended his book. It’s YA but as she said definitely worth reading. It’s about the immigrant experience from his perspective as a 12 year old Bosnian Muslim caught in the Bosnian War. He experiences the terror of being in a war zone followed by the challenges of adjusting to a series of homes in Connecticut. Although he and his family appreciate the church sponsored assistance, there are challenges to being the recipient of charity. Plus the challenge of copi My daughter knows the author and recommended his book. It’s YA but as she said definitely worth reading. It’s about the immigrant experience from his perspective as a 12 year old Bosnian Muslim caught in the Bosnian War. He experiences the terror of being in a war zone followed by the challenges of adjusting to a series of homes in Connecticut. Although he and his family appreciate the church sponsored assistance, there are challenges to being the recipient of charity. Plus the challenge of coping with the loss of home , language, community, family.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Galiah Morgenstern

    Beyond incredibly moving This story grabbed my heart and did not let go til the very end. It was chilling to read about the atrocities in Bosnia; how so many friends and acquaintances turned on Kenan and his family. It was refreshing and encouraging to read of the kind people who helped and were there for them in many ways. But most of all, I loved reading of how Kenan persevered and triumphed.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Lisa McDonald

    Thanks to NetGalley for this digital ARC of World In Between by Kenan Trebincevic and Susan Shapiro. I have to be honest, this book was a bit different than I expected. I was expecting more of a fictionalized story based on true events but it really reads more like a biography. The narrative seemed stilted a bit, but the book is still an amazing tale. What the author went through as a young boy and teen is truly staggering and inspiring. This book is Kenan's story of his harrowing escape from hi Thanks to NetGalley for this digital ARC of World In Between by Kenan Trebincevic and Susan Shapiro. I have to be honest, this book was a bit different than I expected. I was expecting more of a fictionalized story based on true events but it really reads more like a biography. The narrative seemed stilted a bit, but the book is still an amazing tale. What the author went through as a young boy and teen is truly staggering and inspiring. This book is Kenan's story of his harrowing escape from his war-torn home country of Bosnia and his continued perils while in the United States.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Reign 1982

    Omg. This book was beautiful. I cried, I laughed and I cried some more. I can't imagine going through the trials and tribulations this family went through. Then to not be able to go back home. Omg. This book was beautiful. I cried, I laughed and I cried some more. I can't imagine going through the trials and tribulations this family went through. Then to not be able to go back home.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Kim Bahr

    A strong story showing the devastation hate can cause and the power of kindness and resilience in combatting the hate.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Kingsley

    I think this book will be interesting

  20. 5 out of 5

    Kay Seymour

  21. 5 out of 5

    Hanna Collins

  22. 4 out of 5

    Jenn Burchill

  23. 5 out of 5

    Noel Knepper

  24. 5 out of 5

    Heather

  25. 4 out of 5

    Svetlana

  26. 4 out of 5

    SorentoA

  27. 4 out of 5

    Erin Kolar

  28. 4 out of 5

    Jodie Sadowsky

  29. 5 out of 5

    Julie Williams

  30. 4 out of 5

    Justine

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