“‘Thank you! Thank you!’ Isabel cried. Her heart ached with gratitude toward these people. Just a moment’s kindness from each of them might mean the difference between death and survival for her mother and everyone else on the little raft.”

In the chapter titled “Isabel: Somewhere on The Caribbean Sea–1994,” the family decides not to land in the Bahamas or send Mami ashore there, even though she is sick, because anyone landing in the Bahamas will be deported to Cuba. Seeing that the family is not coming ashore, the tourists on the beach begin giving them bottles of water and bags of chips, provisions that they will use as their journey continues to last days longer than planned. When Isabel asks for aspirin for her mother’s fever, an old woman finds some for her, a kindness that gives Isabel hope for her mother. Although the people on the beach cannot change the political situation in Cuba that has caused Isabel’s family to become refugees, these gifts show they still have the power to aid the family in their search for a better life. This scene illustrates the larger theme in the book of the opportunities available for ordinary people to help refugees. 

“‘We are with you! Go with God!’ a woman shouted down to them in Arabic. 

Mahmoud’s heart lifted. They weren’t invisible anymore, hidden away in the detention center. People were finally seeing them, and good people were helping them.”

As Mahmoud and the other refugees cross the border from Austria to Hungary, in the chapter “Mahmoud: Hungary to Germany–2015,” he expects the same hostility to foreigners and Muslims he has experienced elsewhere in Europe. However, unlike the people and police who have followed them through Hungary, angry and ready to arrest them if they stop walking, the people he finds waiting on the Austrian side of the border when they finish praying welcome them with gifts of food and clothing. In Germany, the welcome continues, with offers of diapers and candy for the children. These gifts and the kindness they represent give Mahmoud hope that his family can be happy again, that they will find Hana and his father will go back to telling jokes. This part of Mahmoud’s story illustrates Gratz’s larger theme of the power of ordinary people to help refugees. The people who greet them do not have the power to grant them asylum or make Syria safe, but they nevertheless help the refugees. 

“‘We sent them back to Europe and Hitler and the Holocaust. Back to their deaths. How many of them died because we turned them away? Because I was just doing my job?’” 

In the second chapter titled “Isabel: Off the Coast of Florida–1994,” as the U.S. Coast Guard ship bears down on the little boat and its occupants paddle to try to get to shore before they are captured “wet foot” at sea and sent back to Cuba, Lito is struck with the similarity to the refugee crisis of his youth, when he was a Cuban policeman meeting the passengers of the St. Louis in Havana. Although Lito sympathized with them and did not personally keep them from gaining asylum in Cuba, in this moment he bitterly regrets that he did not help them. Lito did not have the power to change the laws of Cuba, but in hindsight, he understands that he missed an opportunity to help those refugees. He was kind and jovial with the passengers, playing with the children on his visit after he saves Aaron’s life, but he did not see then that he could have done more to help them. By following his orders and only doing his job, he missed an opportunity to help them.