Alone: The Journeys of Three Young Refugees

A review of Alone by Paul Tom

Published on March 16, 2023

Alone: The Journeys of Three Young Refugees is the illustrated adaptation-in-prose of the Gémeaux Award-winning documentary film, Seuls, by director Paul Tom. In these pages we meet Alain, Patricia, and Afshin – three of the many hundreds of child refugees who arrive in Canada every year alone without their families. 


The Journeys of Three Young Refugees

Paul Tom
Translated by Arielle Aaronson
Illustrated by Mélanie Baillairgé

Groundwood Books

Blunt, heartbreaking, and hopeful, Tom’s text in translation by Arielle Aaronson gives them voice. Stranded in Nairobi with his brothers, waiting for a call from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees after the death of his mother, fifteen-year-old Alain despairs: “We don’t know when our suffering will end and the happy days will begin.” At the Roxham Road land border crossing to Canada, seventeen-year-old Patricia struggles to take her next step: “The farther I go, the more I distance myself from my old life. I’m scared of the unknown stretching out before me. It’s July, but I’m cold.” Thirteen-year-old Afshin feels invincible and excited at the prospect of fleeing war-torn Iran: “All I can think is, ‘Look out, world – adventure, here I come!’” But soon the dangerous and lonely reality of his journey becomes clear. 

To promote empathy, the reader is inserted as the main character at the outset of each chapter. “Imagine that you’re going away. Far, far away. And neither of your parents will come with you.” Alone uses this trick sparingly, but effectively. On a muted canvas peppered with stark reds and greens, illustrator Mélanie Baillairgé storyboards the bitterness of separation and the bittersweet relief of arrivals. In Alone, these tender and real stories find shelter.mRb

Meaghan Thurston is a Montreal-based arts and science writer, co-editor of the anthology With the World to Choose From: Seven Decades of the Beatty Lecture at McGill University, and mother to two budding readers.



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