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The stunning memoir of a Muslim teen struggling to survive in the midst of the Bosnian genocide--and the stray cat who protected her family through it all.
*Six Starred Reviews*
A YALSA Excellence in Nonfiction Finalist
A Capitol Choices Remarkable Book
A Mighty Girl Best Book
A Malala Fund Favorite Book Selection
In 1992, Amra was a teen in Bihac, Bosnia, when her best friend said they couldn’t speak anymore. Her friend didn’t say why, but Amra knew the reason: Amra was Muslim. It was the first sign her world was changing. Then Muslim refugees from other Bosnian cities started arriving, fleeing Serbian persecution. When the tanks rolled into Bihac, bringing her own city under seige, Amra’s happy life in her peaceful city vanished.
But there is light even in the darkest of times, and she discovered that light in the warm, bonfire eyes of a stray cat. The little calico had followed the refugees into the city and lost her own family. At first, Amra doesn’t want to bother with a stray; her family doesn’t have the money to keep a pet. But with gentle charm this kitty finds her way into everyone’s heart, and after a few near miracles when she seems to save the family, how could they turn her away?
Here is the stunning true story of a teen who, even in the brutality of war, never wavered in her determination to obtain an education, maintain friendships, and even find a first love—and the cat who gave comfort, hope, and maybe even served as the family’s guardian spirit.
Amra Sabic-El-Rayess grew up in Bihac, Bosnia and Herzegovina. After surviving ethnic cleansing and more than 1100 days under the Serbs’ military siege, she emigrated to the United States in 1996. By December 1999, she earned a BA in Economics from Brown University. Later, she obtained two masters degrees and a doctorate from Columbia University. Currently, she is a professor at Columbia University studying how and why societies fall apart and what role education can play in rebuilding decimated countries. She has published extensively on education-related issues, and has lectured around the world to adult and adolescent audiences. In her students’ feedback, Amra is consistently praised as one of the most inspiring professors they have encountered. She lives in New York with her husband and two daughters.
Laura Sullivan is an author and seasoned collaborator of middle grade and young adult novels, including Under the Green Hill (Holt, 2010), Ladies in Waiting (HMH, 2012), and Love by the Morning Star (HMH, 2014). She collaborated with prolific producer and director Adam Shankman on Girl About Town (Atheneum, May, 2016), a Nick and Nora-styled mystery set in 1930s Hollywood, and the sequel. She also worked with YouTube star Joey Graceffa on the bestselling Children of Eden trilogy (Atria/Keywords). Her adult debut, Milady (Berkley) published in July 2019.
“Gripping. . . . Sabic-El-Rayess's visual imagination is a slipstream. Amra's words have a subtle, relentless force, creating a world where life is a danger, a demand, and a warm, calico presence.” —Foreword Reviews (starred review)
“Boldly tackles the rawness of human emotion in times of severe distress. . . . Unforgettable.” —Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“An excellent discussion starter.” —School Library Connection (starred review)
"Her prose balances verve and gentleness as she discusses the horrors of war alongside moments of levity. . . . A must-read nonfiction addition." - School Library Journal (starred review)
"Exceptional. . . . The author has an extraordinary ability to recreate both the beauty and brutality of these years." - Booklist (starred review)
"[A] memoir about the transformative power of love, connection, and education. . . . as timely as it is effective." - Publishers Weekly (starred review)
"This fast-paced, touching memoir reminds readers of the significance of the Balkan ethnic war, and places it into a larger conversation about the ways in which ethnically and religiously diverse societies are under threat from extremism and bigotry" - The Horn Book Magazine