Susan Shapiro

Susan Shapiro, an award-winning writer and professor, freelances for the NY Times, Washington Post, WSJ, LA Times, NY Magazine, Salon, Elle, Oprah, Wired & New Yorker online. She's the bestselling author/coauthor of 18 books her family hates like Five Men Who Broke My Heart, Lighting Up, Unhooked, The Bosnia List and her recent memoir The Forgiveness Tour. She lives with her scriptwriter husband in Manhattan and uses her writing/publishing guides The Book Bible and Byline Bible to teach her wildly popular "instant gratification takes too long" courses at The New School, NYU, Columbia University and in private classes & seminars - now online. Follow her on Twitter at @susanshapironet, Instagram at @Profsue123 or email


The Sergeant on CNN’s Jake Tapper
Booklist starred review of Book Bible
Library Journal starred review of World In Between
Book List starred review of World In Between
Publishers Weekly Starred Review of Forgiveness Tour
Business Insider ❤️s The Byline Bible & Sue’s Zoom class

Winner of 2023 ASJA book Award

Winner of 2019 ASJA Book Award
Winner of 2018 Best Book Award for Writing & Publishing

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world in between cover World In Between
a middle grade novel
by Kenan Trebincevic and Susan Shapiro

Winner of a 2022 Notable Book for a Global Society Award

Forbes Q & A with Kenan
LA Review of Books: powerful, beautifully moving
Book List - Starred Review
Library Journal - Starred Review
Kirkus Reviews
Read with Val Q & A with Kenan & Sue
Brooklyn Rail: powerful, unforgettable
Bulletin of Center for Children’s Books: effective, relatable, poignant
Kenan on The Big Show syndicated radio
Geek Mom Review

Chronicling his memories of a childhood marked by war and instabilities, Trebinčević’s fictionalized account of his youth is, in some ways, that of any young teen. He (Kenan, in the narrative) loves fudbal (soccer) and wants to show off his best moves to his friends. He enjoys drawing, is teased for his buckteeth, puts up with the class bully, and is sweet on a certain girl. But soon his homeland is ripped apart by war. Trapped for months with his family in their home within a battle zone, losing their possessions and community status because they are Muslim, Kenan and his family are finally able to escape to relatives in Austria before enduring the process of coming to America. Their refugee experience has ups and downs and is slow-going as they strive to build a new life. Sharing a time and experience that has little exposure for most younger readers, Kenan’s emotions and actions bring to life the common threads of growing up and discovering new favorite things. A photo of Trebinčević as a youth and his afterword add context to this balanced, fictionalized memoir. Highly recommended for its emotional and historical perspectives, this is an insightful starting point for understanding one family's refugee experience, as well as the complexities of the Bosnian War.
Beth Rosania
Starred Review - Booklist

In this moving autobiographical novel, author Trebincevic recalls his family’s harrowing emigration from Yugoslavia’s Bosnia province to the United States when he was 11 years old. A typical tween, Kenan loves playing fudbol (soccer), hanging out with best friend Vik, and impressing pretty classmate Lena. Political unrest in neighboring provinces quickly spreads to Kenan’s peaceful hometown, bringing war to the streets and turning friends into deadly enemies. Kenan, his older brother, and their parents flee with nothing but what fits in their suitcases. For the next two years, Kenan and his family endure a grueling, dangerous relocation through several countries, ending in the United States, specifically Connecticut. At each step Kenan and his family are met with alternating cruelty and kindness, making it difficult for the new immigrants to know whom to trust as they adjust to their new life. Trebincevic provides backstory to help readers understand the political forces that tore his home country apart, balancing that information with his own youthful bewilderment and anger, with which readers will readily empathize. The details of the family’s multiple near-death experiences are gripping, although the novel’s pace drags a bit midway through. The author’s note provides fascinating details about the book’s evolution and Kenan’s collaboration with his coauthor. VERDICT An essential purchase for all middle grade collections, as well as school curricula on contemporary world history and immigration.
Marybeth Kozikowski, Sachem P.L., Holbrook, NY
Starred Review - Library Journal

One day he’s playing soccer with his friends, and the next, they’re treating him like an outsider. His teacher, Mr. Miran, threatens to shoot him in the street. Why? Because Kenan is Muslim. And so begins his story of survival. Escaping Bosnia with his family, after passing through checkpoints with the constant fear of being thrown into internment camps, they land in Vienna as refugees, stripped of all their belongings. Once financially and socially thriving, now they survive on the generosity of strangers, shepherded from home to home. Just as Kenan is adapting to Vienna, learning German and memorizing the trolley routes, his family is brought to small-town Connecticut. While his parents begin minimum-wage jobs, Kenan starts school and learns to deal with language barriers and bullying, all the while keeping up with the progression of the war in Bosnia. The question of whether they can ever return home never once leaves his mind. Based on true events in Trebinčević’s life, this account reflects aspects of the stories of millions of refugees fleeing war. At times, the level of detail feels excessive and the story too drawn out, but this title shows how, despite cultural and geographic differences, people everywhere are sometimes drawn to malice but more often to generosity and good. Shows how, for refugees, the struggle for survival doesn’t end when you leave home.
Kirkus Reviews
...moving, gripping, fascinating...VERDICT An essential purchase for all middle grade collections, as well as school curricula on contemporary world history and immigration.
School Library Journal

Kenan is eleven in 1992, when growing Serb nationalism in Yugoslavia makes him and his Muslim family the enemy. His normal life of good scholarship, good soccer, and minimal popularity abruptly turns into one of persecution as the Serbs enact oppressive restrictions on Muslims, commandeer their homes, relocate many to murderous camps, and yet refuse to let Kenan’s family leave the country. Finally, in 1993 he, his older brother, and his parents manage to escape to Vienna, where a kind Austrian family finds a place for them to stay, but their real goal is the U.S. Later that year they’re accepted into the U.S. as refugees under a Connecticut church’s sponsorship, and Kenan struggles to adjust to a new country and several new living quarters and two new schools in succession, all the time hoping desperately, futilely, for a return to his Bosnian home and the life that was destroyed. Classified by the author as autobiographical fiction, the book reads like memoir, shaped by real-life plot rhythms rather than a traditional novelistic trajectory but still rendered accessible to younger readers. Young Kenan’s love of soccer, the one unchallengeable competency he brings to his new country, is an effective and relatable throughline, and readers will also sympathize with his culture shock both at a rich Connecticut school and a tougher one. Most poignant is Kenan’s difficulty in believing that friends and even his beloved teacher (who, as a paramilitary, attempts to shoot Kenan) have transformed into enemies, and there’s an ongoing theme of both good and evil (or at least good and corruption) appearing in unexpected places. While young readers may not be familiar with the events, the immediacy of Kenan’s narration will allow other transplanted children to relate and kids with more fortunate lives to contemplate the thin line between safety and tragedy. An author’s note explains a little more about his process and work with his co-author.
Bulletin for the Center of Children’s books

Review of World in Between by Kenan Trebinčević and Susan Shapiro
by Sophia Brown in Geek Mom
March 22, 2022

In the summer of 2021, I picked up World In Between: Based on a True Refugee Story by Kenan Trebinčević and Susan Shapiro—a middle-grade version of their previous adult book The Bosnia List. I then set the book aside and never got around to reading it, until now. With ever more horrifying events in Ukraine unfolding every day and refugees on their way to my own English village as I write this, it felt more important than ever to try to understand how it feels to be in their shoes, and there is no better way to do that than by reading books written by those who have lived through the experience.

Part middle-grade novel, part author’s memoir, World in Between is set between 1992 and 1994 and tells the author’s story. Kenan was an eleven-year-old soccer-obsessed Muslim boy who, until March 1992, had lived happily in the town of Brčko in Bosnia before becoming a refugee from the Bosnian genocide. The book is written in three parts. In Part One: Losing Home, Kenan begins to sense changes around him. Small at first, he begins to notice that his former friends will no longer play with him, and some neighbors speak cruelly. A riot happens at a football match in a nearby city that his older brother Eldin is attending, and his parents become increasingly stressed as TV news reports describe bombings and arson attacks against Bosnian Muslims. As the situation intensifies, Kenan’s mother wants to leave, but his father—a well-respected man in the town—refuses to believe that things will really get that bad or that those around the family will turn on them, and insists that they stay put. Within weeks, the family finds themselves sheltering in their building with no water or food as bombs rain down outside. Even Kenan’s favorite teacher has turned against them and he threatens Kenan with a gun in the street. With considerable difficulty, the family plans an escape.

Part Two: Stuck in Limbo sees the family living as refugees in Vienna where many people from their country have fled. This is by far the shortest part with only a few chapters but shows how confusing life as a refugee is—especially at the beginning. Kenan and his family have no idea what to do or where to go now they have escaped Bosnia, and are entirely reliant on government handouts and local goodwill, something they all struggle with. Finally, in Part Three: Searching for Home, the family moves to the USA where Kenan still lives today. Initially housed in a spare room, the family feels lost and considers themselves a burden. However, with the support of the community, they begin to make friends have new experiences. Kenan’s love of soccer allows him to find common ground to communicate with others and, although he will always carry the scars of living through a war, he begins to accept and at times enjoy his new life halfway around the world.

World in Between is a heartbreaking story at times but is also filled with hope. It’s terrifying to see how quickly a typical Western town of the type most of us grew up in can be transformed into a warzone—something we’ve all seen unfolding in real-time on TV this month—and it’s also difficult to read Kenan’s thoughts as he fails to grasp the longevity of his situation, imagining that he’ll soon be able to return to his home and things will go back to normal. We experience the frustrations of his parents, both well-educated and respected citizens in Bosnia but now forced to take on work cleaning and babysitting or working in fast food stores due to language barriers and lack of training in their new country. It’s also difficult to read about the people who took advantage of his family when they were at their lowest, such as a woman who steals all the donations made for them by the local community.

However, despite all this, World in Between is at its heart a hopeful book. Kenan’s family is constantly helped by others. Neighbors risk their own safety to help them in Bosnia, strangers help them to escape to Austria, and communities in both Austria and the USA rally to provide transport, housing, and countless other necessities in their new homes. It’s a reminder of just how important that help and support are at a time when the world, unfortunately, needs to be rallying once again to help a new wave of refugees.

World in Between is not an easy book to read, but I would highly recommend it to anyone wanting to better understand what life is like for refugees, and especially for parents with younger readers asking questions about the current crisis in Ukraine. The writing style explores a very difficult topic sensitively, not shying away from the true horrors of war but avoiding language that might traumatize young readers. For anyone wanting more, you can also pick up The Bosnia List which tells the same story for an adult audience and also covers Kenan’s trip to visit his homeland after two decades in the U.S.

Copyright 2004-2024 Susan Shapiro. All Rights Reserved.
Fix-Up Fanatic cover art by Mary Lynn Blasutta