I received this book for free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
The Bone Sparrow by Zana Fraillon
Release date: November 1st, 2016
Genre: Middle grade, contemporary
Subhi is a refugee. Born in an Australian permanent detention center after his mother and sister fled the violence of a distant homeland, Subhi has only ever known life behind the fences. But his world is far bigger than that—every night, the magical Night Sea from his mother’s stories brings him gifts, the faraway whales sing to him, and the birds tell their stories. And as he grows, his imagination threatens to burst beyond the limits of his containment.
The most vivid story of all, however, is the one that arrives one night in the form of Jimmie—a scruffy, impatient girl who appears on the other side of the wire fence and brings with her a notebook written by the mother she lost. Unable to read it herself, she relies on Subhi to unravel her family’s love songs and tragedies.
Subhi and Jimmie might both find comfort—and maybe even freedom—as their tales unfold. But not until each has been braver than ever before.
Just from the description, I knew that this book would pull at my heartstrings, but it actually did more than that. I shattered my heart into tiny pieces. I cried but really urge everyone to read it because it sheds light on an issue that not many people outside of Australia are aware of. I watch the news quite frequently and Al Jazeera (my go-to news agency) discusses Australia’s refugee and migrant detention centres often.
These centres are horrendous! Refugees fleeing war, discrimination and untold violence in their homelands flee for a better life, but only find more pain and suffering. They are separated from the Australia population and live in rough conditions with few basic resources like clean drinking water and food. How is this legal? It’s most certainly not ethically right and that’s why this book is so important. It brings up this issue and hopefully helps contribute to the discussion that is happening in the country right now.
The Bone Sparrow is set in one of these Australia detention centres. It focuses on Subhi, a young boy (about 10 or 11ish) who you can’t help but love. He was born in the centre and has never seen the outside world. It’s told through his point of view, giving the story a dream-like quality. It also means that the reader isn’t really sure of what’s really happening. You see and learn everything through the eyes of a child, which is what makes this book so compelling.
While I adored Subhi, I didn’t connected with the book’s other primary character Jimmie. Jimmie was an Australia citizen, free to do as she pleased, but found herself drawn to the detention centre. She breaks in one day and the two of them become friends. I didn’t connect with Jimmie as a character because her chapters were told in third person. It felt distant and cold, unlike the chapter told by Subhi, which were full of life.
The story really reminded me of The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, which is a good thing! Of course there are parts that pushed the limits of believability. How can a young girl sneak into a guarded centre? But it’s okay because that’s not the point of the book. It’s about discovery, pain and tough decisions, all of which were written extremely well. I cried, I laughed, I wanted to give all of the characters hugs…I was a ball of emotion.
I highly recommend this book. Zana Fraillon’s writing was honest and beautiful. It’s not a joyful topic, it’s downright terrible how innocent people are treated in these detention centres, but she writes with such hope. More people NEED to know about this situation and that’s why, if you are given the chance, you need to pick this book up. It won’t disappoint!
Zana Fraillon was born in Melbourne, Australia, but spent her early childhood in San Francisco. As a child Zana always had her head in a book. This could have been because she was 8 years-old before anyone realized that she was incredibly near-sighted and probably couldn’t see anything further away than the words in a book. But regardless of its origins, her love of reading has remained central to her life and work.
Zana has written two picture books for young children, a series for middle readers, and a fictitious book for older readers based on research and recounts of survivors of the Forgotten Generation.
She lives in Melbourne, with her three sons, husband and two dogs, and still always has her head in a book, despite now using glasses to see anything further away. When Zana isn’t reading or writing, she likes to explore the museums and hidden passageways scattered across Melbourne. They provide the same excitement as that moment before opening a new book – preparing to step into the unknown where a whole world of possibilities awaits.
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