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‘The Crossing’ by Manjeet Mann – Costa winner 2021

The Crossing By Manjeet Mann

A review of The Crossing by Manjeet Mann, an award-winning YA novel published by Penguin Books.

The Crossing is a highly acclaimed young adult novel which won the Costa Book Award for Children in January 2022, and is currently on the shortlist for the Carnegie medal. It’s a searing two-voice story about an Eritrean refugee and a British teenager mourning the death of her mother.


Published by: Penguin, 2021. Available from Amazon.

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The story of ‘The Crossing’

The Crossing is the story of two young people who are living through unimaginably difficult circumstances which are totally beyond their control. Sixteen year old Natalie has lost her mother through cancer. Nat’s mother (a refugee supporter) had encouraged her in her hopes to become a professional swimmer. Now, without her, Nat is in deep grief, her father finds it difficult to cope both financially and emotionally, and her brother Ryan joins the EDL. Nat’s girlfriend Mel tries to give her sympathy and support, but it’s a heartbreaking journey.

It’s a heartbreaking journey, too, for eighteen year old Sammy whose journalist father has been murdered by the authoritarian Eritrean regime. Sammy is awaiting conscription to the army where he knows he will face torture. He and his friend Tesfay make a desperate bid for freedom by managing to raise one thousand American dollars to buy forged documents and transport to Sudan. From there, Sammy dreams of travelling to England, where he has relatives, and where he knows he will have a better life. On the way he endures exploitation, brutality, detention and extreme danger.

The structure

The Crossing is as ambitious in its structure as it is in its intertwining storylines. It is a two-voice novel from two very different protagonists.

The one thing Nat and Sammy actually have in common is the death of a parent. Their grief is so raw, profound and artistically intermingled that it is difficult at first to distinguish the voice of one character from the other. Manjeet Mann has employed a device to lead us from one to the other which isn’t immediately obvious, perhaps deliberately so. You’ll find a clue in the text above. Once the reader has cracked the code, however, the continuity is seamless – but then, by its nature, occasionally intrusive. This structure succeeds most powerfully in intertwining two stories, two minds, in their despair, their agony, their courage and their dreams.

Described as a verse novel, The Crossing is neither prose nor poetry. It is written in very short interrupted and stark sentences. This makes it both easy and difficult to read. As a lover of the flowing sentences of English narrative prose, I found myself trying to ignore the end of line spaces and to complete each written thought in one go. After a time, though, I fell into reading the book to a different kind of rhythm, persuaded by the author’s strong narrative voice. The clipped style makes for a very fast read and is a clever structural device.

The Crossing of the title very powerfully links Sammy and Nat – each is aiming to cross the English Channel. If they succeed, it will change their lives.

Best moment

It would be a plot spoiler to tell you which part of The Crossing I liked best. But I can tell you that there is a point in the story where, by magical thinking, Nat and Sammy come together as two desperate teenagers reaching out for help. This moment is beautifully achieved.

My thoughts about ‘The Crossing’

Did I enjoy reading it?

Enjoy is hardly the right word. The Crossing is not an entertaining read. It’s a harrowing, unforgettable story about two young people who deserve so much better, and who strive so hard to achieve their dreams. The reader engages strongly with them both.

What do I take from it?

It taught me a great deal about the suffering of refugees and the brutality of oppressive regimes. It also taught me to realise how many young people are reaching out, on their own, for help from the rest of the world.

Do I recommend it?

Yes, without hesitation. I recommend it for children over ten and adults. The Crossing is a powerful, painful and hopeful story, which resonates strongly today. Readers will not forget it for a long time, and will want to talk about its important issues.

‘The Crossing’ – reviewed by younger readers

The Crossing is a lovely book about finding safety and helping others. I loved the continuing argument that although it may seem the refugees are different, they are just people trying to find safety, escaping from a country of war, and that they should be helped, not left to suffer. 

I liked the effect of the end of one part being the start of another. However this technique sometimes felt too forced. I would recommend this book to ages 10–13, but it is very good for making older readers think about these issues.”

Review by Maia, Year 8, Hope Valley College

Maia from Hope Valley College, one of my young reviewers of ‘The Crossing’

“Overall, The Crossing is a very insightful and thought-provoking read which discusses issues going on in the world today. The format in which it is written is a very original idea which adds to the story itself.

Though the format was clever, it did make the read challenging at times and often less enjoyable because it distracts the reader from the rest of the story. The short sentences lost their effect in the story as they became overused.”

Beth Sambridge, Year 8, Hope Valley College

About Manjeet Mann

Manjeet Mann
Manjeet Mann

Manjeet Mann’s first book Run, Rebel was voted the Shadowers’ Favourite book for the Carnegie Medal 2021. It went on to win many more awards and accolades. Manjeet is also a playwright and screen writer.

Run, Rebel has now been dramatised and the play is on tour throughout England in March 2023. See the Pilot Theatre website for details, and my review below.

She founded Run The World, a non-profit organisation promoting sport and theatre as a means of empowering women and girls. You can find out more here:

A very interesting interview with Manjeet Mann can be found on Books for Keeps.

Pilot Theatre and Run, Rebel

Currently Pilot Theatre is touring a theatre production of Run, Rebel.

Run, Rebel – the play

Manjeet Mann’s dramatisation of her novel Run, Rebel is vibrant and touching. Amber (played dynamically by Jessica Carr) has huge issues to cope with – bullying, family poverty, abuse, adolescent rejection and friendships, among many other issues. It closely follows the book and the verse narrative is spoken throughout and with huge, aggressive energy by Jessica Carr. This energy is physically portrayed in her passion for running, and her bitter disappointment at being forbidden by her father to stay in the running team is keenly felt.

At times the issue of her father’s violent, drunken behaviour towards his wife and daughters overshadows the more significant matter of his refusal to let them live in a more western way. He is a frightened man, living in a country whose language he does not speak and whose ways he does not understand. In one beautiful scene we are allowed to see another side of him, gentle, loving, where he and Amber dance together.

The audience consisted very largely of secondary school children, probably between 12–16. Two significant moments in that performance at Derby Theatre stood out for me, largely because of the young audience’s gasps of disbelief. Amber dares to confront her father, and Amber’s first kiss. The reaction from the audience at both these moments show that the novel, and its dramatisation, are spot-on for the target audience.

Pilot Theatre is an international touring theatre company specialising in plays for teenagers. It was founded by students from Breton Hall College in Wakefield, and is now based in York. They are also touring Malorie Blackman’s Noughts and Crosses.

My book about an immigrant child

The Girl Who Saw Lions is a two-voice novel set partly in Tanzania and partly in Sheffield. Abela’s parents have died of AIDS, and her uncle sends her as an illegal immigrant to England, supposedly for a ‘better life’. In fact she is the victim of child trafficking, and finds herself enslaved as a house servant. Abela’s story is bound up with that of Rosa, who is devasted and jealous when she discovers that her mother is looking to adopt an African child.

Published by Andersen Press. Available from Amazon.

Over to you

Please recommend any other children’s books about migrants, refugees and asylum seekers in the comments box below.

Berlie Doherty

Berlie Doherty is the author of the best-selling novel, Street Child, and over 60 more books for children, teenagers and adults, and has written many plays for radio, theatre and television. She has been translated into over twenty languages and has won many awards, including the Carnegie medal for both Granny Was a Buffer Girl and Dear Nobody, and the Writers’ Guild Award for both Daughter of the Sea and the theatre version of Dear Nobody. She has three children and seven grandchildren, and lives in the Derbyshire Peak District with Alan James Brown. Her new picture book The Seamaiden’s Odyssey, illustrated by Tamsin Rosewell, will be published by UCLan on 5 September 2024. See the About me page for more information.

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