“No one puts their child on a boat unless the water is safer than the land” Warsan Shire

We’ve featured a lot of stories about brave and inspiring women and girls lately, but today we are shining the spot light on a boy who encourages us all to appreciate what we have and to always hang on to hope.

Boy 87 by Ele Fountain is an eye opening read, showing readers how perilous life can be for those born without some of the freedoms we are blessed to have. In the last few years we have seen more refugees moving around the globe at any time since World War Two, and although at first the news and our papers seemed to be filled with images of people desperately trying to make their way across oceans to safety, it seems as if we have somehow become desensitised to the situation and it has been pushed to the back of the agenda. Boy 87 focuses on a young boy, Shif, who plans to make such a journey, but the book clearly shows that the horror doesn’t simply begin and end with a boat journey, but what a person has to do to try and grab at this chance of freedom.

We are never told exactly where Shif is from, although it has been suggested with Fountain having lived herself in Addis Ababa while she wrote this book, it appears to be somewhere of East African origin.

Ele Fountain

Shif lives with his mum and younger sister, and goes to school each day with his best friend, and neighbour, Bini. The two are sharp as they come, and their hard work and talents have paid off at school, seeing them moved up a couple of years to study. It’s not just their academic abilities that link them together though, as both boys no longer have their fathers around, although due to very different circumstances.

Life begins to change when one day armed soldiers start hanging around their school making everybody uneasy. When Shif leaves his home one evening to pick up some injera, he is spotted by the police, and although they call after him something within tells him to run and hide back at home. From that instance wheels are set in motion to change this young boys life forever, as his mother reveals a family past kept hidden from him and the consequences this could now create for them all.


My heart was in my mouth throughout this book. Shif is a loyal, kind and dedicated boy who I took to immediately and as I became caught up in his story something kept tugging at me to remember this is the story of so many out there. I think this is a great read for young readers as it explains the human side of a story that can seem so complex and unknowable. Fiction allows us to travel alongside somebody and empathise in a way that facts and figures printed in a newspaper column will never do.

Shif, and all those he represents, is going to play on in my mind for a long time, and I think this is only right. We need to never forget those who are clinging on for survival and put their faith and hope in vessels not worthy to carry them.

Boy 87 by Ele Fountain £7.99 (Pushkin Press)

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“No one puts their child on a boat unless the water is safer than the land” Warsan Shire

One thought on ““No one puts their child on a boat unless the water is safer than the land” Warsan Shire

  1. ‘Fiction allows us to travel alongside somebody and empathise in a way that facts and figures printed in a newspaper column will never do.’ I keep reminding people of this. Empathy – developed by either living through something literally, or living through it virtually via fiction – is very different from sympathy, that feeling we acquire from facts like your newspaper example, or a documentary, or even a movie.

    You don’t know what an actor/character is feeling unless the actor is very good, and even then you’re guessing (except for the clumsy voiceover) from how you’d feel if you were making the same expression (try that cross-culturally and you’ll see how little it’s worth).

    Fiction that shares a character’s thoughts can, if done properly, create empathy in people who do not identify with a visual image of a character. It lets us LIVE a different life more than any other art. I know, because that’s the kind I write, and readers have specifically mentioned it works. Not all fiction – thank goodness – and it shouldn’t be preachy, or the main point, or anything obvious. Fiction needs to entertain first – so we’ll read it. But it is an amazing tool.

    Liked by 1 person

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