The Bone Sparrow, written by Zana Fraillon, is set in a immigration detention centre in Australia with the focus on Subhi, who has so far been born and raised in the centre. Subhi is a complex character, full of hope and naivety on the outside, yet as his character unfolds we see the impact of a life that is so boundaried in all ways and how that affects his development.
Subhi meets Jimmie, a local girl who he forms an illegal relationship with, and which allows both of their worlds to have some healing and growth. The characters share many common experiences of grief, isolation, anger and immense need to hope in the future. This relationship is developed beautifully, with the horrors of Subhi’s life in detention so blatant, yet unsaid between them.
Life is more graphically described in parts of the book, which makes me wonder about the fact this this is aimed at primary school aged children. While the subject should be discussed and not hidden from young people, the violence in the book was enough to make me cry and feel helpless, as it’s so realistic and we know this actually occurs.
The bone sparrow itself, is a necklace with family history for Jimmie. This layer of the story is beautiful as Jimmie and Subhi make sense of the past and their present through the stories that are in Jimmie’s deceased mother’s diary. The bone sparrow offers hope and understanding of how life can be fair, unfair and inbetween, but that hope can always remain.
The Bone Sparrow is a must read – the rawness of life in detention, the importance of friendship and understanding are all so well written and intertwined. I loved it, and will recommend it to adults and young adults I know, but not kids!