A teenage refugee adapts to a new country, a new language, new school and even finds a wonderful best friend, until the pressures of past and present collide and lead to a lie that changes everything.
Refugees from the Bosnian War, Lazar’s family flees the Siege of Sarajevo and arrives in Winnipeg in the early 1990s. Despite various mini dramas unfolding at home, as his parents and older sisters navigate a new language, the bitter cold and a strange city and country, Lazar manages to find a place for himself at school, largely by making friends with Elle, a sassy, outspoken girl who divides her time between living with her hoarder mother (who stuffs their tiny apartment with bargains she finds at Liquidation World) and her hippie father, Jimmy, who lives in British Columbia. But as two geeky loners, Elle and Lazar are happy in their own bubble of friendship, especially after they form a pop duo and dream of making it big on Star Search. Soon Lazar’s desperate escape out of Sarajevo seems far away, even as the trauma of his broken homeland looms large with his family at home.
Then Elle comes back from Vancouver after a summer at Jimmy’s, and things are different. They’re in high school, Elle has lost weight and blossomed into popularity, while Lazar remains small, skinny and forgettable. She seems to have forgotten all about their singing plans and starts spending time with a new kid, Ivan. Lazar is unmoored and filled with new longings — for Elle, for Ivan, for a sense that he belongs somewhere. His mother and older sisters worry about his health, that he’s so thin, that he’s not interested in sports, even though the doctors can’t find anything wrong.
And then, in an impulsive moment, Lazar tells Ivan that he’s seriously ill. And with this one reckless lie he suddenly gets — and loses — everything he thought he wanted.
Key Text Features
Correlates to the Common Core State Standards in English Language Arts:
Explain how an author develops the point of view of the narrator or speaker in a text.
About the author
BRENDA HASIUK has published adult short stories in the Malahat Review, New Quarterly and Prism. She has previously written two YA novels, Where The Rocks Say Your Name (shortlisted for the McNally-Robinson Book of the Year and the Margaret Laurence Award for Fiction) and Your Constant Star (praised by Kirkus for its “authentic teen characters, closely observed settings and moving plot”).
Brenda lives in Winnipeg, where she is on the board of Rossbrook House, an inner-city drop-in center for at-risk youth, and heads up Project Reunite, a grassroots group working to support, settle and reunite Syrian refugee families.
Excerpt: Swan Dive (by (author) Brenda Hasiuk)
… lies are maybe like cancer cells, spreading just for the heck of it. It’s like the first one goes rogue and takes on a life of its own and then the rest keep going because they can’t help it, they’re cancer cells and that’s what they do.
Because after she calmed down, Elle took me to the couch and she made me put my head in her lap and she …told me she was skipping her visit to Jimmy’s this spring so she could be there for me, and Mindy was already buying a frozen lasagna to bring over because knowing Mama, she was probably in no state to cook.
Then she sang Cher’s “Believe.” Except for the second verse because she couldn’t remember it.
[A] narrative that is matter-of-fact, bitingly funny, and intensely reflective . . . . this is a heartfelt exploration of one boy’s experience as a refugee.
This book is one that will keep readers anticipating throughout, whilst providing some humour, and leaving them with big ideas to ponder upon conclusion.