*This book was gifted to me by Nosy Crow Ltd in return for an honest review.*
No Ballet Shoes in Syria is one of those books I wish I'd read when I was a child. With its heartwarming characters, the kindness of strangers and the quest to make a dream become reality, all intrinsically woven together, it is the type of book, I would have cherished, reading it over and over again until it fell apart. However this book wouldn't have been around when I was a child, because we didn't have the growing refugee crisis that we have now.
The story is told from Aya's point of view. Only eleven years old, she has taken on the responsibilities of an adult. She arrived in England with her mother and younger brother and they are desperately seeking asylum. Her father has gone missing and her mother is struggling to speak English while suffering from depression. For Aya to cope, she turns to her love of dance. She is curious about the dance classes that take place every week in the community centre where she tries to sort out her family's future. Finding a solitary space to dance, she doesn't realise she is being watched by Miss Helena, who runs the dance classes. Miss Helena is so impressed by Aya's dance techniques that she invites her to join the class for free. Finally, one of Aya's dreams is coming true. But this is just the start of her journey.
I adored Aya! She is so grown up for her age and dealing with more than most adults could cope with. The majority of the characters in the book have beautiful souls and do what ever they can to help Aya. I've always tried to live with the "Pay It Forward" mindset and I was thrilled to find it so deeply embedded in this story.
In between the chapters, there are brief interludes, which show us what Aya's life was like in Aleppo and how she came to be in England. These scenes are eye opening and really made me think. I'll be honest, I've rarely paid any attention to the refugee situation. I've always viewed the situation as something happening far away from me, but it isn't, its happening right here and right now.
It is very clear that Catherine Bruton has researched this subject throughly and it comes across in her writing. She has taken a very difficult situation and handled it with honesty, care and dignity to produce a sincere, heartwarming book to be proud of. She has blended a classical approach to story telling with a topical and sensitive issue to produce a future classic.
For the children of today, this will be the classic book they remember from their childhood.