Book List: “Go back to where you came from”

Immigration, refugees, asylum seekers… it’s a hot topic, laden with emotion and misconceptions. SBS takes an innovative look at the issue with their series Go Back to Where You Came From, as well as having some great school resources available online. But what are the best YA reads that address this issue in a modern way?

The Arrival by Shaun Tan

Really, does it get any more beautiful than Shaun Tan’s wordless, sepia sketched story of a man’s immigration from a country of darkness to a bewildering (but safe) new society? No. No it doesn’t.





No Safe Place by Deborah Ellis

Ellis is renowned for sharing the stories of those affected by war, from the fictionalised account of a teenager trying to live outside a refugee camps in the Middle East in Shauzia, to the non-fiction account of Iraqi child refugees in Children of War.

No Safe Place is a tale of adventure, following three teen asylum seekers trying to make it to the safety of England.

Allen & Unwin

Growing Up Asian in Australia edited by Alice Pung

A collection of stories that takes a first-hand look at the experience of migration and multiculturalism. Shaun Tan, Leanne Hall, and Oliver Phommevanh (see also: Thai-riffic) are among the many contributors.

Alice Pung has also shared her own family’s immigration story in the exquisitely written Unpolished Gem and Her Father’s Daughter.

Black Inc

The Lumatere Chronicles by Melina Marchetta

Marchetta is well-known for the Italian-Australian character Josie Alibrandi – her transition from teen to adult, and the family secret her grandmother has kept hidden since her migrant days.

I’d really love to highlight Marchetta’s latest work, however. The Lumatere Chronicles explores the devastating situation of refugees in a fantasy (but all too real) world. This is not a place of wizards and elves, but a land of curses and displaced people. Placing this contemporary issue in a fantasy world serves to highlight the universality of these emotions and experiences. The final installment in the trilogy, Quintana of Charyn comes out next week (26 September), so now you can read them all at once.


Walk in My Shoes by Alwyn Evans

Gulnessa and her family are ‘boat people’. Fleeing war-torn Afghanistan they make the perrilous journey to Australia, only to be placed in a detention centre.





Watership Down by Richard Adams

The original but timeless refugee story – where anthropomorphised rabbits must find a new home after their warren is destroyed.

Simon & Schuster


Other titles to consider:

  • Does My Head Look Big In This? by Randa Abdel-Fattah looks at the contemporary life of a Muslim teen girl, primarily focussing on the broader theme of multiculturalism in Australia, but also touching on the immigrant experience.
  • Only The Heart by Brian Caswell and David Phu An Chiem – Toan and Linh flee post-war Saigon.
  • Boy Overboard and Girl Underground by Morris Gleitzman, for Middle Grade appropriate depictions of the journey of an asylum seeker, and life in a detention camp, respectively.

What are your recommendations?

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