The Bone Sparrow by Zana Fraillon
Subhi is a refugee. Born in an Australian permanent detention center after his mother and sister fled the violence of his 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.
Subhi is a refugee, the first child born within the fences of an Australian detention center. Unlike his mother, his sister Queeny, and the other refugees in the center, he has no memories of home, no knowledge of what life is like Outside. His awareness of their situation's injustice is inconsistent and is often the cause of frustration for Queeny, who was a small child when they entered the camp but still able to remember the good and bad parts of their life before the fences. Jimmie lives just up the hill. Her existence is quiet, lonely, and insular. With the death of her mother, her family's stability fell apart. Her father works a job that keeps him away from home days at a time and she relies on her brother for transportation to school, which means she often misses. At ten years old, she still doesn't know how to read. When she happens upon the fence and Subhi one night and discovers he can read, they start meeting at night in secret to read over her mother's stories and learn more about each other's lives.
For a young adult/middle grade level novel, The Bone Sparrow deals with a great many heavy subjects, including human rights, depression, and grief. However, much like Harper Lee's treatment of racism in To Kill a Mockingbird, Ms. Fraillon tempers the weightiness of her chosen subjects through the light, innocent eyes of children. Seeing Subhi's plight through his own innocent eyes makes his situation that much more heartbreaking. Jimmie, while when compared to Subhi leads a rather cushy life, also has her own issues to deal with, and the children bond over the depth of their shared experiences--losing a parent, loneliness--rather than focus on their many differences. I enjoyed the elements of fantasy and magic; the imaginative narrative helped us remember that despite the dark experiences Subhi and Jimmie undergo, they are still children. The Bone Sparrow is difficult to read, but important.
I received a complimentary copy from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.