Alem is 14. He is both Eritrean and Ethiopian, and Eritrea and Ethiopia are at war. Alem's father finds that his family is unwelcome in either country. He brings Alem to Britain and leaves him there, where he thinks he will be safe. The book follows Alem as he gets to grips with England, the weather and the immigration system. He suffers many major setbacks.
He is full of fear for his future if he is made to return to a war zone. Alem shows how people remain strong in the face of adversity, and how people feel when rejected from the place they call home. His colourful character remains solid through all his traumas. His story reminds everyone that refugees are not just figures talked about by the government-they are talented people caught out by war.
The book focuses on those who try to defend asylum seekers, those who look after them, and those who think the government is wrong to treat them like they do. This book highlights the hypocrisy of the legal system. It is a horrifying yet realistic portrayal of the current hysteria and racism towards asylum seekers.
Although the subject matter it is not unique, Benjamin Zephaniah pulls it off brilliantly. He is better known for his poetry than his novels, but this one is very skilfully written.
His style has a magical fluidity which made me want to read it in one sitting. The book manages to be occasionally humorous and very sad but not depressing. It inspires people to fight for a better system, one where asylum seekers are cared for, respected and given a better life-not detained and deported. It is aimed at those in their early teens, but is accessible enough to be read by anyone, especially ten to 13 year olds.
I would recommend it to anyone trying to understand the plight of refugees. Above all, it is an enjoyable and provocative book.