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The Bone Sparrow (Zana Fraillon, Lothian)

In a story that is in some ways reminiscent of John Boyne’s The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, author Zana Fraillon asks readers to imagine a ‘Someday’ better than today.

It is a story that weaves together the similarities between Jimmie, a young girl living just outside the fence of a permanent detention centre in Australian, and Subhi, a Rohingya refugee born on the inside. Jimmie grieves for her deceased mother and feels cut off from her family, who are struggling to make ends meet, while Subhi dreams of meeting his Ba and imagines a sea that sweeps up to the sides of his tent each night. In the morning he finds treasures on the ground that he is sure have been left by the Night Sea and his father. When Jimmie and Subhi meet they become symbolic to each other of hope and change. Many of the elements in The Bone Sparrow act as a fairytale, which gives readers permission to imagine themselves into its reality.

In the current political climate, where the voices of refugees are silenced by power and indifference, books like this one are both necessary and problematic. They deal with themes that are extremely confronting and they highlight the fact that these stories are not being told by the people who are living them. From her introduction and acknowledgement, Fraillon appears acutely aware of this, and The Bone Sparrow is clearly written with great care. Her work seems to come from a deep need to act and to use her position as a writer to confront injustice rather than turn away from it.

The Bone Sparrow isn’t without fault. Without the benefit of lived experience, neither author nor reader are truly able to know its authenticity. At times it seems the onus of hope is placed more heavily on Subhi, and that Jimmie’s circumstances don’t give her enough knowledge or power to enact change. Despite this, The Bone Sparrow is a powerful story for readers of middle-grade and YA fiction, and one that implores them to recognise the injustice in their own world in the hope that ‘Someday’ they will live in one that is better.

Bec Kavanagh is a Melbourne-based writer and reviewer. She is the Schools Coordinator for the Stella Prize, and chair of LoveOzYA


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