Stay Strong: A Musician’s Journey from Congo is the true story of Gentil Misigaro, a young Congolese man who fled the constant violence and warfare of his country to settle as a refugee in Winnipeg. Misigaro’s love of music helped him through extremely difficult times, and led him to success as a musician in Canada, where he also founded a charitable organization and garnered a 2014 RBC Top 25 Canadian Immigrant Award for his volunteer work.
Written in hi-lo style (and set in dyslexia-friendly font), Stay Strong aims to relate Misigaro’s complex, often frightening journey in language that is accessible to younger or less-proficient readers. The book is only partly successful in reaching this goal. Author Natalie Hyde’s explanation of the Rwandan genocide and its effects on neighbouring countries is very well done. Less successful is the depiction of the people, particularly the treatment of the story’s hero. Though undoubtedly a man of unusual compassion and talent, Misigaro is portrayed as essentially flawless, making it difficult to identify with him. Despite the high-stakes situation, the story’s narrative is also a bit flat; events and decisions are explained exclusively from the perspective of an omniscient narrator, rather than Misigaro’s thoughts or actions. While this tactic makes for straightforward reading, it also becomes repetitive.
With the plight of refugees so frequently in the news, Stay Strong would be a good choice for younger or reluctant readers seeking to learn more about this topic. Kids who need a bit more nuance to hold their interest should probably look elsewhere.