Nadia is awoken in the early hours of October 9, 2013. As the sound of bombing approaches and helicopters appear, the family has decided it is time to escape their home in Aleppo, Syria for safety in Turkey. They have a well-practiced escape plan, but Nadia is reluctant to leave, despite the imminent danger. One year earlier, she was injured in a bomb strike and has hardly left her apartment since.
As they are leaving, a bomb destroys their apartment building and Nadia is buried in the rubble. Fearing that a second bomb is about to strike, and not knowing whether Nadia is alive or not, everyone is forced to run, leaving her behind. Injured and alone, Nadia must overcome her anxieties and keep moving if she hopes to be reunited with her family at their designated meeting place, Dr. Asbahi’s dental clinic.
Nadia finds shelter for the night in an abandoned pharmacy. There she meets an elderly man named Ammo Mazen who agrees to take her to the clinic to find her family before they leave for Turkey. When they finally reach the clinic, Nadia is heartbroken to discover a letter from her mother telling her that they had no choice but to leave without her. There are instructions for meeting her father in Turkey and Ammo Mazen tells Nadia he will take her there.
As they travel, Ammo Mazen becomes increasingly mysterious to Nadia as he makes many unexplained stops along the way. Ammo Mazen’s health is deteriorating and as more facts are revealed, Nadia begins to wonder about his true identity.
Each chapter is time-stamped and the story flashes back and forth to reveal events leading up to what became known as the Arab Spring and give context to the progression of the war in Syria. We see how, over the course of a few years, life has changed drastically for Nadia and her family.
I was captivated not just by Nadia’s quest to find her family but also by how much this story taught me about the history and culture of Syria and the insight it gave me into the life of a child in a war-torn country. Escape from Aleppo is a definite must-have for any middle-grade classroom library, but I believe older readers will also connect with Nadia’s story of bravery and determination. This book has much to teach readers of all ages.