November 26, 2018

The Garden

Written by Meghan Ferrari
Red Deer Press
109 pp.
Ages 12+
October 2018
Often, he imagines his heart as a stereo, and his pain a volume knob that his memories control. The volume varies, depending on the day, the time, and the trigger. When the trigger is swift and unexpected, it feels as though the bass has been cranked, and a pain that almost blinds him reverberates throughout his entire body. (pg. 26)
While we might assume, incorrectly, that the path from war-torn Syria through refugee camp and immigration to Canada would be in a positive direction, that journey is rife with trauma, loss and changes that may shadow any positives and create stresses in the new experiences. Such is fifteen-year-old Elias's story, told in alternating chapters of pre- and post-immigration to Canada.

Elias lives with his little brother Moussa and his parents, one a doctor and the other a translator, in Syria. He goes to school, plays football and enjoys spending time with his little brother who loves to draw with his crayons. Then the civil war begins and schools are closed because of missile attacks, food is in short supply and humanitarian donations are being targeted. But Elias is most vigilant about keeping little Moussa and himself safe from rebels seeking to capture children for training and arming for war. In a hole dug in their mother's garden, beneath a piece of plywood, the two boys hide, with Elias making up games, like hide and seek or a role play of a jasmine seed planted in hope of growing, to avoid sharing the circumstances of their situation with his very young brother. The garden becomes a refuge for the boys as it has always been for their mother.

Alternating with Elias's reminiscences of life in Syria are his experiences as a new immigrant, wishful of returning to his homeland to help rebuild it while he is being bullied by boys who know nothing of his struggles. Though he is reluctant to make friends, soon two classmates, Sullivan, a small boy often victimized by bullies, and Liling, a girl whose own family sought asylum in Canada, come to support him without needing to know his back story.

But Elias is struggling with guilt, for choices he made and makes, and for circumstances he deems unfair after he and his family seek shelter in a refugee camp in Lebanon. Coupled with the trauma of things no young person should experience, Elias agonizes over how to look forward when it might mean forgetting those he left behind.

The Garden may be Meghan Ferrari's first book but she draws on her expertise in Social Justice Education to tell a convincing tale about one teen's experiences in the Syrian War, in a Lebanese refugee camp and as a new immigrant to Canada. Elias's disquieting realities, living in fear, with memories of the past and with his prospects for the future, are palpable, drenched in grief and trauma.
The people here might have fled the war, but they weren't free. They were imprisoned in this camp while they anxiously awaited verdicts on asylum claims, news of private sponsorships, or the end of the war. As with most prisons, there was solitary confinement. In this one, it existed in the mind–each inmate trapped in memories of loved ones: either dead, or left behind, or gone ahead on the harrowing journey across the Mediterranean Sea. (pg. 90)
Fortunately for Elias, a garden was and is his salvation, taking his story from one of war and loss, and culture shock and bullying, to the beginnings of healing, and Meghan Ferrari makes sure to let us observe Elias on his odyssey.

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