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World in Between: Based on a True Refugee Story Hardcover – July 27, 2021

4.8 out of 5 stars 45 ratings

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From the Publisher

With a bad overbite and pants too small for me, I stuck out as a poor foreigner. I’d never flown before and imagined the steel tube filled with lounge chairs was a huge space ship.

When I showed Mom the card explaining the inflating raft in case of a water landing, she said, “They think the plane will come down. We’ll fall in the ocean!”

“Just regular procedure,” Dad explained, holding her hand. My brother, Eldin, held her other hand.

The stewardess handed me a pasta lunch. I told her, “I can’t pay.”

“It’s free, honey.” She laughed.

In our homeland, Dad was a sports coach who owned a gym. Mom was a clothing company manager. With the war, our bank accounts vanished overnight. My beloved karate coach came to our home with an AK-47, yelling “You have one hour to leave or be killed.” We packed one bag each and fled.

I couldn’t sleep, haunted by images of our fellow countrymen, who had suddenly turned nationalistic like the government, deciding they hated and wanted to kill us because of our religion. My teacher holding a gun to my head. My best friends beating me up. Meat trucks driving massacred bodies of my people down our street. Eldin and my dad taken to a concentration camp. For two weeks, we didn’t know whether they were alive.

As we landed at Kennedy Airport at 6:20 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 20, 1993, men in navy blazers swarmed around us. My back tensed. With their badges and serious faces, I feared they were soldiers rounding us up for jail or death, like the militia back home.

“They’re just airport security,” Eldin explained.

International Refugee Committee workers, who recognized us from our blue-and-white bags, handed my parents paperwork.

“They just need their signatures on those contracts,” Eldin said.

“To make us Americans?” I asked.

“To promise we’ll pay back the three thousand dollars of the airfare,” he said.

We’d been told only, “Someone will meet you at baggage claim.” We didn’t know who. I wished we could just go home, but we didn’t have one anymore.

After our passports were stamped, a tall white man held up a sign with our last name. “Welcome to America, Kenan,” he said, smiling, shaking our hands.

“Thank you, Sir,” I said in English. I hoped he’d like me, sensing our lives were in his hands.

“I’m Donald Hodges, a Methodist minister. Call me Don.”

I’d never seen a Methodist before.

“I’m from the Interfaith Council, the churches and synagogues sponsoring you,” he said. “You’re our first refugees. Are you hungry? Thirsty?”

In the parking lot he gave us apple juice, turkey sandwiches and crunchy Chips Ahoy cookies. I still remembered that act of kindness.

“We’re going to Westport, Connecticut, an hour away,” Don said.

We stayed in his home for five months. Like many immigrants, a rough road lay ahead.

“We’ll be nobodies here so you and your brother can be somebodies someday,” my parents said.

Dad slung chicken at a fast-food joint and worked in a bottle top company refusing welfare, until he had a stroke. Mom babysat, then found a factory job, too, before she got the cancer we lost her to. My 76-year-old Grandma Emina was so distraught by the death of her youngest daughter at 52, she had a fatal heart attack at the Bosnian memorial service.

It wasn’t all pain, however.

I proudly became a U.S. citizen in 2001. My roommates at the University of Hartford threw me a “Welcome to America” party with red, white and blue balloons. Now 36, I’m a PT, like my brother. We take care of my father in Astoria, a short drive from where we first landed.

Seeing Muslims stopped and turned away at U.S. airports not along ago, after President Donald Trump’s executive order for a Muslim country ban, I wondered what would have happened if we’d been detained at Kennedy Airport, questioned, then sent back to the Balkans. We may not have survived. I realize how lucky my family is that this country took in 169,000 Bosnian war refugees.

I am grateful to the church and synagogue members who helped us, the doctors and dentists who treated us for free, and to our lifelong friend, the Reverend Don Hodges, the first American to extend his hand at the airport, welcoming us to our new homeland. I even wrote a book about my experiences with a Jewish teacher. We call it a Jewish/Muslim story of healing about the Christians in Connecticut who saved my family.

Kenan Trebincevic is the coauthor with Susan Shapiro of World In Between: Based on a True Refugee Story

Editorial Reviews

From School Library Journal

Gr 4–6—In this moving autobiographical novel, author Trebincevic recalls his family's harrowing emigration from Yugoslavia's Bosnia province to the United States when he was 11 years old. A typical tween, Kenan loves playing fudbol (soccer), hanging out with best friend Vik, and impressing pretty classmate Lena. Political unrest in neighboring provinces quickly spreads to Kenan's peaceful hometown, bringing war to the streets and turning friends into deadly enemies. Kenan, his older brother, and their parents flee with nothing but what fits in their suitcases. For the next two years, Kenan and his family endure a grueling, dangerous relocation through several countries, ending in the United States, specifically Connecticut. At each step Kenan and his family are met with alternating cruelty and kindness, making it difficult for the new immigrants to know whom to trust as they adjust to their new life. Trebincevic provides backstory to help readers understand the political forces that tore his home country apart, balancing that information with his own youthful bewilderment and anger, with which readers will readily empathize. The details of the family's multiple near-death experiences are gripping, although the novel's pace drags a bit midway through. The author's note provides fascinating details about the book's evolution and Kenan's collaboration with his coauthor. VERDICT An essential purchase for all middle grade collections, as well as school curricula on contemporary world history and immigration.—Marybeth Kozikowski, Sachem P.L., Holbrook, NY

Review

★ "In this moving autobiographical novel, author Trebinčević recalls his family’s harrowing emigration from Yugoslavia’s Bosnia province to the United States when he was 11 years old....Trebinčević provides backstory to help readers understand the political forces that tore his home country apart, balancing that information with his own youthful bewilderment and anger, with which readers will readily empathize....The author’s note provides fascinating details about the book’s evolution and Kenan’s collaboration with his coauthor. An essential purchase for all middle grade collections, as well as school curricula on contemporary world history and immigration."School Library Journal, STARRED review    "Sharing a time and experience that has little exposure for most younger readers, Kenan’s emotions and actions bring to life the common threads of growing up and discovering new favorite things....Highly recommended for its emotional and historical perspectives, this is an insightful starting point for understanding one family's refugee experience, as well as the complexities of the Bosnian War."Booklist, STARRED review    "This title shows how, despite cultural and geographic differences, people everywhere are sometimes drawn to malice but more often to generosity and good. Shows how, for refugees, the struggle for survival doesn’t end when you leave home."—Kirkus   "The immediacy of Kenan’s narration will allow other transplanted children to relate and kids with more fortunate lives to contemplate the thin line between safety and tragedy. An author’s note explains a little more about his process and work with his co-author."—The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books   "Scenes come alive through the first-person voice and abundant dialogue....a long, intricately detailed narrative that effectively weaves in enough historical background to make events understandable for young readers." —The Horn Book

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Product details

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Clarion Books (July 27, 2021)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Hardcover ‏ : ‎ 384 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 0358439876
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-0358439875
  • Reading age ‏ : ‎ 8 - 12 years
  • Grade level ‏ : ‎ 3 - 7
  • Item Weight ‏ : ‎ 1.05 pounds
  • Dimensions ‏ : ‎ 5.5 x 1.47 x 8.25 inches
  • Customer Reviews:
    4.8 out of 5 stars 45 ratings

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5.0 out of 5 stars poignant story of a 12 year old Muslim boy caught in the middle of a war
By Lisasolo on July 28, 2021
This was a very gripping engaging story about Kenan's escape from war-torn Bosnia and the kind people in Europe, America and Vienna who helped save his family.
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