Monday, May 9, 2016

In Her Words, a Refugee Story Told in Verse

Brave and bold, The Good Braider by Terry Farish is told through the voice of Viola, a young immigrant teen who escapes with her mother from war-torn South Sudan to a refugee camp in Cairo and then to a new home in Portland, Maine. Viola is haunted by the life she left behind – the people she has loved, the violence she has endured, and the natural beauty she remembers – as much as she is fearful and uncertain in her new life as an American living in Portland. The story is written in free verse, and the vibrant story-telling entices any young reader or adult.

Both Viola and her mother, Tereza, struggle. They are learning the ropes in their new lives, working in a chicken packing factory, building a community of Sudanese within Portland, keeping up with the news and family left behind in South Sudan.  Other more mundane tasks pose challenges as well, including learning how to drive in the U.S., to check out books from the public library, and to speak English. Acculturation comes easier— though it is by no means easy— for Viola who also attends high school, slowly making friends with a teacher, a social worker, and other students. As Viola poignantly observes, “no one from America is from America.” When romance sparks between Viola and a red-haired classmate named Andrew, a cultural collide erupts, straining reaches a literal boiling point Viola’s relationship with her mother. 

Well researched, this novel is an excellent accompaniment to learning about the conflict in South Sudan, the world’s newest country, which is one of the poorest in sub-Saharan Africa and also one of the most oil-rich. The civil war left tens of thousands of South Sudanese dead, and over 2 million were forced to flee their homes. The Good Braider does not shy away from some violent scenes, so we recommend using discretion and reading at the middle school level and above. 

The novel is also a way for educators to explore the long process of becoming a refugee to the U.S. Each year the President, in consultation with Congress, determines the numerical ceiling for refugee admissions. For Fiscal Year (FY) 2016, the proposed ceiling is 85,000In FY 2015, a third of refugee arrivals to the U.S. came from Africa.

Additional Resources
  •  A Land of Refuge or Refusal? Perspectives on the Refugee Experience in the United States – In this American Immigration Council lesson plan, students analyze key ideas in an academic article that provides background on the refugee experience in the United States. After analyzing author’s claims and evidence, students apply one of those claims to the current refugee crisis in order to answer the question: how is America a land of refuge, refusal, or both?
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