Sparrow reviewed by Tara

A boy is in a boat in the middle of King Sound, Western Australia. He is one of nine juvenile detainees returning from a training exercise when the boat stalls. He contemplates what monsters lurk in the water between him and the unknown land in the distance. He weighs the possibility of sharks, crocodiles and box jelly fish, against the inevitable return to juvenile detention. The situation on the boat escalates and he plunges into the water to swim for freedom.

Sparrow is the story of the boys struggle to survive on the desolate rocky coastland. It is written mostly in the third person, from the boy’s perspective, in a way that is both impersonal and yet surprisingly intimate. Through the boy’s repeated attempts to survive, the reader learns more about him; his logic, persistence and resilience. At the end of each chapter, a memory from the past is triggered and, as the memories unfold, the reader gains insight into the events that have shaped the boy. The style is captivating. Sparrow is difficult to put down as one learns how this boy lost everything, more than once, and yet still strives to survive.

There are some interesting themes. The boy is mute. It is interesting to have insight into his perspective and the skills he has developed to engage people, to communicate and to survive. His inability to speak creates difficulties for him within the legal system, when circumstantial evidence builds against him. It is interesting to consider the other factors that deny him a voice in the situation. There is a short section where he finds his voice and ownership of his life, and then he retreats, although not to silence. The process is skilfully narrated and flows seamlessly. Other themes include family neglect, physical abuse, drug addiction, death of a family member, substance abuse, homelessness, loss of schooling, violence, survival, resilience, hope and the importance of finding connection.

When Sparrow was recommended to me, I didn’t find the description immediately engaging but decided to give it a go. I am really grateful for the recommendation and the chance to read and review it. I enjoyed it immensely. Although it is a sombre story, it is not a sad tale. It rings with resilience and hope.

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