I don’t read much YA fiction. I’m glad I read this book, even though it is haunting me.
‘DAR-1, that’s me. I was the first baby ever born here.’
Meet Subhi. He’s about nine years old, and was born in an Australian detention centre. The boundaries of his physical world are defined by the razor wire, but his imagination knows no bounds. Subhi’s mother, Maá and his sister Noor, nicknamed Queeny are with him. They are Rohingya refugees from Burma.
Subhi describes his life: controlled by guards who oversee everything, where food, water and toilet paper are rationed. He’s known no other life. He tells us that Maá spends much of her time sleeping, that he helps a friend trade items around the centre. He tells us, too, that one of the guards, Harvey, takes the time to remember and use the children’s names. These are things that Subhi tells us, in a matter-of-fact way. Subhi remains optimistic, he has the stories he has heard and those he imagines:
‘I’m listening to the stories of the sea. Do you want me to tell you what I hear?’
He also has the Shakespeare duck to keep him company.
And then, Jimmie enters Subhi’s world. Jimmie lives with her father and brother close to the centre. Jimmie has lost her mother, doesn’t often make it to school, and cannot read. She has a book of stories her mother wrote, and a necklace. Both are important to her. This unlikely friendship is important to both Subhi and Jimmie. She is his confirmation that there is a world outside the razor wire and he is her path back into her mother’s stories.
In the world that Jimmie and Subhi share, there is hope.
‘How can people be so mean to each other when isn’t everyone the same anyway and why can’t anyone work that out?’
This is a beautifully written book. It may be aimed at the 8 to 14-year-old age group, but I’d recommend it to all adults (and politicians) as well. ‘The Bone Sparrow’ won the 2017 ABIA book award for: Book of the Year Older Children (age range 8 to 14 years)