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In this gripping and eye-opening novel, two Syrian refugee teens trying to make a living on the street corners of Beirut must decide how far they’re willing to go to make a home for their family in an unwelcoming country.

Thirteen-year-old Hadi Toma and his family are displaced. At least that’s what the Lebanese government calls them and the thousands of other Syrian refugees that have flooded into Beirut. But as Hadi tries to earn money to feed his family by selling gum on the street corner, he learns that many people who travel the city don’t think they’re displaced—they think that they don’t belong in this country either. Each day he hears insults, but each day he convinces himself they don’t matter, approaching the cars again and again. He hardly dares to dream anymore that this might change.

But then Hadi meets Malek, who has been instructed to work on the same corner. Malek, who talks about going to school and becoming an engineer. But Malek is new to the streets, and Kamal, the man who oversees many of the local street vendors, tells Malek he must work the corner…alone. And people who don’t follow Kamal’s orders don’t last long.

Now Hadi is forced to make a choice between engaging in illegal activities or letting his family starve. Can the boys find a way out of their impossible situation, or will the dream of something greater than their harsh realities remain stubbornly out of reach?

Reading Group Guide for

Displaced

By Dean Hughes

About the Book

If war and bombs hadn’t destroyed his home, thirteen-year-old Hadi would be in school in Syria. Instead, he’s a refugee selling gum on a street corner in Lebanon, and his family is barely getting by. Rent is due soon and food is scarce. Hadi’s mother, who cares for his six younger siblings in a one-room apartment, has a terrible toothache but no money for a dentist. Desperate to help, Hadi takes dangerous steps to make money—steps that alienate his new friend, Malek. Is there any chance of a better life and future for the two friends? Join the boys on the streets of Beirut as they work against the odds to keep hope alive, like so many refugees do every day.

Discussion Questions

1. Describe Hadi, his background, and his current occupation. How does his family end up in Lebanon? How does he help make money for the family? How does he feel about his work? What are his hopes for the future?

2. How does Hadi meet Malek? What do they have in common, and how are they different? What is different about their circumstances? Why is Hadi first reluctant to become friends with Malek? What changes his mind?

3. An aspect of Malek’s character is revealed in his interaction with Amir. Who is Amir, and why do people usually ignore him? How has Hadi treated Amir in the past? Why is Malek friendly toward Amir? What is Amir’s initial reaction, and how does that change?

4. How does the incident with Amir relate to The Prophet, the book Hadi and Malek are reading? Reflect on this quotation that the boys discuss: “You give but little when you give of your possessions. It is when you give of yourself that you truly give.” What does this statement mean to you?

5. Explain how Hadi ends up with the book, The Prophet. Why does Hadi go into the bookstore? How does the woman who works there treat him at first? What changes her attitude? Why does she end up giving him the book?

6. Near the end of the book, how does The Prophet become important when Hadi is talking with Mona? Why does Hadi quote the following sentence to Mona, and how does he apply it to himself? “Even those who limp, go not backward.” Do you have a line from a favorite book that has impacted you? Explain your answer.

7. What is Hadi’s father like? What did he do back in Syria? Why can he no longer do this job in Lebanon to make enough money to buy what the family needs? How does he feel about Hadi working?

8. When she first appears in the story, Hadi’s mother has a terrible toothache. Why hasn’t she gone to the dentist? What other problems is she facing? According to Hadi, how has she changed from the past? How does she seem at the end of the novel, and why?

9. Describe Hadi’s siblings. What are their days like in Beirut? How do they get along? Why does Khaled want to go with Hadi to sell gum? How does he feel about asking for money? Talk about Hadi’s and Khaled’s experiences while asking for money and discuss how you might feel in their shoes.

10. What was life like for the family in Syria? How did it get worse over time? Describe Hadi’s memories of the girl named Marwa. How did he know her? What happened to her? How and why does it haunt him?

11. What do Hadi and his family worry about and fear? Explain who Rashid and Kamal are, and the threat they pose to Hadi and eventually to the whole family.

12. Explain why Hadi agrees to give Rashid’s packages to the drivers. In chapter fourteen, why does Hadi think that “All the trouble his family was facing now had started with that decision”? Why do Hadi and Malek argue about it, and how does it cause a rift between them? What does Baba think is going on, and why doesn’t he ask more questions?

13. “Hadi knew he wasn’t a child, that he had been forced to grow up, but he longed for that time when happiness had seemed the normal way of things.” How has Hadi, who’s thirteen, been forced to grow up? What other children in the story have to take on adult responsibilities? Give examples of other children who lost their childhoods—whether you find them in fiction, history, or current events—and explain why.

14. Discuss how Malek helps Hadi learn to read; talk about why, as these sentences show, hope is still hard for Hadi to hold on to: “So Hadi now had a book and he had Malek to help him read it. Still, hope was frightening. It was so easy to crush. Right now things could end up going worse than ever.” How do you feel about hope?

15. Who are the Risers? Where are they from, and how did they meet Hadi? How do they help Hadi and his family? Why do you think they make such an effort to help? How do they hope to help Malek, too, at the end of the story?

16. Why is going to school so important to Hadi? Why does Malek wish he could go too? What is Hadi’s experience like at the school in Jounieh?

17. Describe various aspects of the setting, including where Hadi lives and works. How important is the setting to the story? Could the story have been set elsewhere, and if so, where? Do you think it could have been set during a different time and still have had a similar impact on readers?

18. Read the author’s note and relate it to the novel’s content. What inspired the author to write the story? What is it based on? How do you think living in Lebanon helped the author convey the setting?

Activities

1. The civil war in Syria, which is a key factor in Displaced, has gone on for nearly a decade. Have students do research on the war and its effects. Ask them to bring in at least ten facts that they’ve learned, and have the class discuss the facts in relationship to the novel. https://teachmideast.org/resource_guides/syria-civil-war-and-refugee/

2. Hadi thinks longingly about meals in Syria. He recalls “tabbouleh, kibbeh, fattoush, falafel, and above all, the creamy, rich hummus and baba ghanoush.” He also mentions manoushés with za’atar spice. Ask students to find recipes and photographs of these foods. Convene a discussion of foods the students enjoy at home that might be unfamiliar to some of their classmates.

3. In the author’s note, Dean Hughes describes Lebanon as “a beautiful little Mediterranean country, full of wonderful people . . . One of my fears is that readers of Displaced will come away with the wrong impression of the many welcoming, loving people we met in Beirut.” Ask students to do research on Lebanon and create short slide presentations about aspects of the country that interest them such as its history, culture, geography, and so on.

4. The epigraph quotes Patrick Kearon, and the author’s note gives a longer quotation from him. Have students write an essay about Kearon’s words, how they relate to Displaced, and how they might apply to the student’s own life.

5. The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran is available online for free at Project Gutenberg. (https://www.gutenberg.org/files/58585/58585-h/58585-h.htm) Find passages of it that would be fruitful for discussion and share them with the class. Have students meet in small groups to analyze and reflect on the passages.

Guide written by Kathleen Odean, a youth librarian for seventeen years who chaired the 2002 Newberry Award Committee. She now gives all-day workshops on new books for children and teens. She tweets at @kathleenodean.

This guide has been provided by Simon & Schuster for classroom, library, and reading group use. It may be reproduced in its entirety or excerpted for these purposes. For more Simon & Schuster guides and classroom materials, please visit simonandschuster.net or simonandschuster.net/thebookpantry.
Photograph by Doug Martin

Dean Hughes is the author of more than eighty books for young readers, including the popular sports series Angel Park All-Stars, the Scrappers series, the Nutty series, the widely acclaimed companion novels Family Pose and Team PictureSearch and Destroy, and Four-Four-Two. His novel Soldier Boys was selected for the 2001 New York Public Library Books for the Teen Age list. Dean Hughes and his wife, Kathleen, have three children and nine grandchildren. They live in Midway, Utah.

"Hughes writes with clarity and compassion about Hadi’s experiences and the suffering of displaced persons...His descriptions of the refugees’ fight for survival in Beirut are empathetic without being heavy-handed....Recommended, especially for young adults looking for a realistic look into the daily fight for survival faced by many refugees."

– School Library Journal, October 2020

More books from this author: Dean Hughes