I was eager to read Touch the Sun, the second book in The Freedom Findser series, because I enjoyed the first one, Break Your Chains. Each book in the series tells a story of child from a different generation and place coming to Australia as a migrant or refugee. The story is written in the second person in a similar style to choose-your-own-adventure books, where the reader is cast as the protagonist and periodically has to decide between two difficult options and follow the story to see the outcome of the choice.
Touch the Sun, is a powerful story, where the reader is cast as a thirteen year old Somali boy of Muslim faith. The protagonist and his sister, Jamilah, are orphans who live with their Aunt Rahama. Their aunt is a journalist at a radio station who is working to expose a terrorist group, Al-Shabaab, and the Bright Dream Orphanage which is a cover for Al-Shabaab’s involuntary recruitment and training of orphans to fight for their cause. When Al-Shabaab plants a bomb at Rahama’s work while she is broadcasting, Jamilah and her brother are in danger. The protagonist, and thus the reader must make choices around their flight and the protection of a memory stick that contains data that could expose Al-Shabaab. The choices include illegally crossing the border to Nairobi, fleeing to a Kenyan refugee camp and attempting to flee to Australia.
In the opening to the book there is a warning to the reader that, as the main character, “you may die in this book”. The reader is faced with difficult choices and many pathways do lead to death as the reader explores the life-or-death choices that children may face when they are fleeing danger and travelling to a new land. Yet while the choices are difficult, they are not distressing and there is a strong flavour of hope throughout the story, despite the numerous hurdles the children face. There are a lot of inspiring characters, heart-warming moments and interesting events.
The story is peppered with facts about Somalia, journalists who endanger their lives to expose the truth, religious extremism, illegal border crossing, refugees, asylum seekers, ingenious inventions in refugee camps, people smugglers, the uncertainty asylum seekers face and Australia’s immigration policy. The facts are presented in succinct, age appropriate appendices, referred to as ‘Fact Files”. It is all skillfully woven together to create a highly engaging story and an excellent source of learning.
I also enjoyed the references to the power of words: The journalist who broadcasted a story exposing evil, the boy with his pen writing poems about his experiences as a refugee, and the man in a doorway playing a guitar in defiance to the ban on music, who is described as ‘a secret hero’ with a ‘guitar as his weapon’.
Touch the Sun is a stand-alone story, but contains unexpected links to the first book in the series, Break Your Chains. Due to the concepts involved and the thirteen-year old protagonist, I would recommend Touch the Sun for older middle grade readers and early young adult readers. It would sit really well in a middle school library (years 7-9).