________________ CM . . . . Volume XVII Number 1. . . .September 3, 2010


No Safe Place.

Deborah Ellis.
Toronto, ON: Groundwood/House of Anansi, 2010.
205 pp., pbk. & hc., $12.95 (pbk.), $18.95 (hc.).
ISBN 978-0-88899-974-0 (pbk.), ISBN 978-0-88899-973-3 (hc.).

Grades 4-7 / Ages 9-12.

Review by Michelle Superle.

*** /4

Reviewed from Advance Reading Copy.



"Do a lot of people know about it?" Abdul was trying to figure out how safe they were. He'd like to stay and rest up before starting his long walk north.

"Why would I tell anybody? This is my secret place." [said Gemma]

"Well, it's beautiful," Rosalia said.

"The helicopter will come back," Cheslav said.

"It might not," said Abdul.

"The Coastguard helicopter?" Gemma asked. "Oh, they come here all the time. They work with the police. A lot of people try to smuggle drugs around here. You're not drug smugglers are you? ...You can't be criminals. You're still children."

"We're not children!" Cheslav objected.


As always, Deborah Ellis has chosen a timely topic upon which to base her latest novel - the harrowing journeys of child migrants. No Safe Place tells the story of three orphaned children and their difficult but ultimately successful attempt to reach the United Kingdom. Fifteen-year-old Abdul has spent four months getting from Baghdad, Iraq, to Calais, France, where he finds a boat to take him across the English Channel. Also on the boat are the Romani girl. Rosalia, who is escaping forced prostitution, and the Russian boy Cheslav, a runaway from the army who hopes to make it to New Orleans in the US so that he can live out his dream to play jazz trumpet with great musicians. The focus of No Safe Place is the children's adventure-filled journey across the Channel, a present-day focused narrative line that alternates between chapters explaining how each child ended up on the boat.

     No Safe Place has an exciting plot, and it is admirable for its insistent portrayal of children as capable agents of their own destinies, who can effectively take responsibility for themselves. Another highlight of the story is its deeply satisfying ending, as close to happy as this tale could realistically be.

     On the other hand, a frequent tendency in the narrative is "telling" rather than "showing." In only 208 pages, Ellis attempts to flesh out the stories of several central characters, alternating between the present and the past. The overall feel is that of a massive, sweeping tale skipped over and squeezed into a stilted, skimpy text, something akin to a folktale, perhaps. While this approach is workable in a folktale, it is less successful in a work of fiction. Consequently, there is something rather hollow about No Safe Place that renders it much less gripping and compelling than Ellis's best-known work, The Breadwinner. It is also similar to a folktale in its simple vocabulary and sentence structure. While the publisher recommends this novel for young adult readers, these and other qualities indicate that it is better suited to younger readers aged nine to twelve, although its subject matter may position it as Hi-Lo.

      Overall, though, No Safe Place provides a fascinating snapshot into the lives of child migrants through three unique characters' experiences. It should prove intriguing for child readers and will tie in well with various Social Studies curricula.


Michelle Superle teaches in the Children's Studies Program at York University.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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