________________ CM . . . . Volume XIX Number 3 . . . . September 21, 2012


A Long Way From Home.

Alice Walsh.
Toronto, ON: Second Story Press, 2012.
182 pp., trade pbk., $11.95.
ISBN 978-1-926920-79-5.

Grades 4-9 / Ages 9-14.

Review by Mary Thomas.

*** /4

Reviewed from Advance Reading Copy.



"All students are to clean out their desks," the principal's voice rumbled over the PA system at Gander Academy. "All textbooks, papers, pens, and notebooks must be taken with you when you leave today."

Leah Pickford glanced at the clock on the classroom wall. There were still twenty minutes before classes ended.

"Don't leave anything behind," the principal continued. "And another thing..." He paused as a plane roared overhead. "All classes are cancelled tomorrow."

This announcement was greeted by a chorus of cheers from Miss Pelly's sixth grade students.

Leah watched kids stuff notebooks and papers into their knapsacks. She looked at the large calendar near the blackboard. Tomorrow was Wednesday, September 12. It wasn't a holiday. There wouldn't be any in-service days until October; Miss Pelly had said so. Why then, were classes being cancelled in the middle of the week? Something wasn't right. She raised her hand.

"Yes, Leah?"

"Why is school closed tomorrow?"

"There's been a ... um ... situation in the United States. Some planes have been diverted. Passengers will be using our school as a shelter."

"You're kidding, right?" Kyle Elliot said. He looked around. "People are actually going to sleep in here? What's wrong with the motels?"

Well, we all know what the "... um ... situation" was on the eleventh of September, 2001. A Long Way From Home tells the story of Rabia, Colin, and Leah and how the attack on the World Trade Centre affected their lives.

      Rabia arrived in Newfoundland as a refugee from Taliban-ruled Afghanistan where her father had been violently arrested, one brother killed, another forced to run away to avoid being drafted into the army, and the third so traumatized by witnessing his brother's murder that he had forgotten how to speak, work, or play. Rabia, herself, had gone from being a happy schoolgirl learning English from her father, to being an isolated, house-bound caregiver with a clinically depressed mother, a silent brother, and a cracked, too-small, prosthetic foot, a result of having stepped on a land mine. Nevertheless, it is she who insisted that they flee Kabul for Pakistan, bribing the border guards and doing everything necessary to get the remnants of her family the sponsorship of an American aid group and onto that flight to the U.S., bound for California. A stopover in Newfoundland was not on her agenda!

      After a summer long visit with his English grandmother, Colin and his mother are travelling back to their New York apartment where his bedroom overlooks the World Trade Centre. His diplomat father is off on one of his many missions, these constant trips being a source of such contention that Colin fears his parents may be heading for a divorce.

      Leah lives in Gander with her grandmother, aunt, uncle, and brother, a temporary arrangement while her mother completes her nursing degree in St. John's.

      The disruption of the lives of these three young people and how they react to the 9/11 disaster when Rabia's and Colin's plane is re-routed to Gander where the hospitable Newfoundlanders open their homes and their hearts to the stranded passengers is the story of A Long Way From Home. It is not a wildly exciting book in spite of the context of Rabia's mother's sudden heart attack and Colin's not unreasonable convictions first that his father had been at a meeting in the twin towers, and then that he had come searching for him in Newfoundland and been involved in a bad car accident. It does, however, give an intimate picture of how big events affect individual lives. Not all novels need to be nail-biters; these youngsters are all engaging characters, and readers will be drawn into their stories, truly caring about them and their problems, and seeing how easily negative prejudices are formed and how much it takes to overcome them. A Long Way From Home is a good story and a fine addition to the growing collection of September 11 novels.

      The story is largely focused on Rabia; certainly she is the one who is the 'long way from home' of the title. Her sufferings and those of her family at the hands of the Taliban show very clearly that all Muslims, all Afghani, all Americans, all Anybodies, cannot be lumped together, but each person needs to be taken individually. Colin and Rabia learn this from each other, enriching both their lives and those of their readers.


With everyone else, Mary Thomas knows exactly where she was when the plane struck the towers on the way to her library job in Mulvey School in Winnipeg, MB. Now retired, she retains her interest in children's books.

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

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