Sunflower (Ingrid Laguna, Text)
When Jamila’s oldest friend is granted a visa to move from Iraq to Australia with her family, Jamila is over the moon. But Mina’s arrival is more complicated than Jamila expected it to be. It seems like nothing makes Mina happy anymore, and the tension between Mina and Jamila’s good friend Eva is making Jamila feel like she’s caught in the middle. Ingrid Laguna’s second novel for middle-grade readers is a standalone companion to Songbird, her first. But in Sunflower, protagonist Jamila has been in Australia for longer, and she’s found a way to fit in. Mina’s arrival makes her remember what it’s like to not belong, and Jamila struggles with the pressures of her own interests alongside looking out for her friend. Sunflower is a big-hearted novel that credits its readers with the emotional awareness to empathise with trauma. The author’s years working with refugee children are evident in her complex portrayals of Jamila and Mina—Laguna doesn’t shy away from the reality of the lives they’ve left behind but she also refuses to take advantage of them for shock value. The friendship challenges the three girls face will be recognisable to all young readers, and the novel is full of hope and humour. Readers who enjoyed Zana Fraillon’s The Bone Sparrow or Nova Weetman’s Sick Bay will love this warm story of friendship and belonging.
Bec Kavanagh is a Melbourne writer and academic, and the schools programmer at the Wheeler Centre.