Editor's note: “Cold White Sun” is the winner in the Young Adult book category of the 2020 High Plains Book Awards.
Tesfaye, a young Ethiopian boy, flees his African home using fake names and passports. He is smuggled out of Ethiopia, passing through Kenya and Europe on his way to begin a new life in Canada.
Based on interviews author Sue Farrell Holler conducted with a young refugee, this fictionalized account of Tesfaye chronicles the uncertain, confusing and terrifying journey that follows.
Tesfaye was born during the 1980s Great Famine in Ethiopia. He was the son of a powerful businessman who lived a happy life of privilege with his family, safe behind a walled compound in Addis Ababa. He went to the best schools, caring only about doing well enough in school to please his father and become the most favored son.
The book begins in 1991 with the revolution that overthrew the dictator Mengistu Haile Meriam. Tesfaye’s life changed completely after rebel soldiers forced their way into the family compound. After Tesfaye’s father was arrested for anti-government activities, Tesfaye’s name was added to a wanted list for helping his father distribute pamphlets. Tesfaye’s familiar, safe life disappears. His life is now in danger, and he begins the journey that takes him to Canada.
Tesfaye ends up in Calgary. The author writes of his arrival, “A teenage boy stands outside the Calgary bus station, alone, on a frigid night. He has no winter clothes, no identification, and he speaks little English. His name is Tesfaye, but who is he, and where did he come from?”
Tesfaye faces overwhelming challenges in this strange new country. He has no family, no friends, and no money, yet he finds a way to survive and make Canada his home.
“Cold White Sun” deals with the tough subjects of war and refugees as well as the racism Tesfaye experiences in Canada. This is an emotional and moving, yet realistic story of a refugee’s journey. Readers can’t help but feel empathy for Tesfaye and others like him who must sacrifice so much for their survival and safety.
Karin Green is a former middle school librarian, now retired.
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