Review by: Danielle Mitchell-Damron

Emory University

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Don’t Tell Me You’re Afraid tells the story of a young girl of Samia Omar Yusef and her quest to be a sprinter and to represent Somalia at the 2012 London Olympics. Growing up in Somalia in the mid-1990’s involves the ongoing civil war that takes away most of life’s comforts. For Samia, the war hinders her ability to attend school and her ability to train as an athlete. I was reminded that Samia was the sprinter who finished last in her heat at the 2008 Beijing games in the 200-meter sprint. I remembered her story and how the crowd rose to their feet and chanted her name as she finished the race in last place.

I think highly of Catozella’s book for several reasons. First, the author painted a very vivid picture of the world Samia grew up in.  I could visualize the markets of Mogadishu and the bullet-riddled stadium where Samia trained in secret for “big races.” Second, Catozella makes the experience of being a refugee jump off the page, as you feel immersed in the “journey” -- leaving Somalia with the help of “traffickers” for a better life and opportunities elsewhere in a safer and more stable place. Anything can happen to you during the “journey.” You can get sick, you can run out of money and you can lose hope. Samia encounters all of these setbacks and all the time she knows that if she is caught by the authorities she could sent back to Somalia.

The author’s research and attention to detail about Samia’s life made it difficult for me to put down. This book is special because it makes Samia more than an Olympic hopeful -- this book gives her voice and makes the reader understand her story and the sacrifices she made. She is forced to make sacrifices because of who she is and where she comes from, both of which none of us have control over. I must have watched Samia race in Beijing a dozen times on Youtube, and each time there was something about her dress and demeanor that I have a better understanding of because of Catozella’s book. Perhaps the best example is her Nike headband, which was a gift from her father for one of her big races and was one of the few items she had with her when she perished in the Mediterranean Sea in 2012.

I recommend this book to fellow advisors because it is well-written, educative, and timely. About a week after the book arrived in my mailbox the current administration tried to invoke a travel ban on travelers from six countries including Somalia. The news on the ban changed the way I read the book. Samia’s story helped me understand better understand what it’s like to be an international student in today’s American colleges and universities. Before this book, I thought I appreciated their bravery and courage, but with this altered lens I began to understand their stress and the uncertainty they face while trying to complete their education. I think insight that this book has given me has made me to better understand the demands and pressures placed on young people and I hope that having this insight makes me a better advisor to my students.  

Catozella, G. (2016). Don't Tell Me You're Afriad (A. Milano Appel, Trans.). New York, NY: Penguin Press.

Posted in: 2016 Book Reviews
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