CKG Review: The Bone Sparrow by Zana Fraillon

What the Judges Say:

“Simply and innocently told from a child’s perspective this important and timely novel brings to life the risks people are willing to take to make their voices heard and the resilience of the human spirit…The plot is skilfully executed, blending together the two different narratives of the main characters, allowing both to influence the other’s life and propelling the action forward. Finally the credible and consistent ending offers hope, but no easy happy ending.” – Judges comments

What the Publisher Says:

Subhi is a refugee. Born in an Australian permanent detention centre after his mother fled the violence of a distant homeland, life behind the fences is all he has ever known. But as he grows, his imagination gets bigger too, until it is bursting at the limits of his world. The Night Sea brings him gifts, the faraway whales sing to him, and the birds tell their stories.

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 from the other side of the wires, and brings a notebook written by the mother she lost. Unable to read it, she relies on Subhi to unravel her own family’s love songs and tragedies.

Subhi and Jimmie might both find a way to freedom, as their tales unfold. But not until each of them has been braver than ever before.


What We Say:

Subhi is smart and sweet and is a particularly unique narrator, given that he was born in the detention centre and that’s all he’s ever known. He has never seen the world outside but through stories passed down from his mother and his rich imagination he builds a picture of a better, kinder world. There is a maturity in his voice but many childlike elements too – such as his conversations with a rubber duck – these all knit together to make him multi-layered and authentic. Subhi’s friendship with Jimmie is endearing and uplifting and beautifully demonstrates the fact that children don’t judge, that they look for connections not divisions.

Some of the most difficult to read, and yet most important, parts of the story are the parts in which the treatment of the refugees at the hands of the guards (the sinister ‘Jackets’) is described:

Nasir hops on his crutch over to his bed. He’s only got one leg. He used to have a plastic one to go with his real one but the jackets took that away when he got here and never gave it back. Nasir says he doesn’t mind so much about his leg. He says it is worse for people like Fara, who is deaf and had her hearing aid taken, so that now she can’t hear the memories people tell each other to keep themselves alive in here. Or the ones like Remi, who needs medicine every day and had that taken away by the Jackets and even the letter from his doctor was destroyed. Remi has these fits and headaches that make him scream so hard it cuts through your thinking. He says all he needs is his medicine. ‘I thought you would help me.’ He says that over and over again. I don’t know who he’s talking to though.

You find yourself staggered at the fact that innocent people, who have fled persecution and horror, are being subjected to more barbarity at the hands of people who should be helping. And although this story is fictional, the knowledge that real-life refugees are being subjected to similar inhuman treatment in places where they deserve to be safe is particularly sobering and galling.

This book is beautiful, important, heartbreaking and hopeful all in one and is an excellent exploration of empathy, friendship, human rights and the power of stories.

Find out more:

Watch Zana Fraillon talk about The Bone Sparrow on the CKG shadowing site:


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