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Old 07-29-2016, 02:33 PM View Post #1 (Link) The Bone Sparrow by Zana Fraillon
Lykaios (Offline)
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Join Date: Jan 2008
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I don't ever really post my reviews here, but I wanted to make an exception for a book I read recently. The Bone Sparrow is a new book, recently published in the UK, and I think almost released in the US? -nottoosure- I saw it on Netgalley (for those of you not in-the-know, it's a site where publishers let reviewers read an ebook of a book pre-publication) and when Netgalley rejected me, a friend who works for the publishers kindly sent me an actual copy of the book (which I'm really happy and grateful about now because yay actual books!).

The Bone Sparrow is a children's book, but it's one of those children's books I can imagine being studied in schools one day and adults reading it and remembering it for a long time. It's about two children; Subhi is a Rohingya refugee born in an immigration detention centre in Australia, who has never seen the outside world and has a very fluid imagination; Jimmie is a lonely girl living in the local town who doesn't go to school as often as she should, is illiterate, and has not long ago lost her mother. I'd never heard of the Rohingya people before reading this book, but many sources on the internet describe them as amongst the world's most persecuted minorities. It was a solid reminder that refugees today are not all from Syria, Afghanistan, and Africa. It's a simple little story, not overstuffed with plot or politics, but full of character, and I think it evenly paints people very well, without the kind of see-saw prejudices that could come easily with writing such a book. But it also shows how the media, the public's lack of concern for people who are literally 'out of sight and out of mind', help form our priorities and compassions.

Subhi is an easy character to root for, empathise with, and love. Right from the start, heís a sweet, endearing, and dreamy sort of kid whose imagination weaves magical realism and escapism into the story, despite how his world is so challenging and limited. Subhiís chapters were in first person and Jimmieís were in third, which created a natural distance between Jimmie and the reader ó an interesting narrative choice as Jimmie is the character whose life and viewpoint reflects those of her readers the closest. She takes her education for granted, misses her mother, and has her own struggles to overcome in this story. And then thereís the story of the Bone Sparrow itself, and all the little stories and imaginings that bind these two characters together. Itís not often I read a story-within-a-story that is as engrossing as the main plot, but the story of the Bone Sparrow worked really well to mirror the danger and furious fear in the background of the childrenís real lives.

Itís impossible to read this book without taking stock on Subhi's life as an echo of the real lives of real children, out there somewhere, who are treated like criminals because their families only wanted to survive. It's an important reminder in the current political climate of refugee-blaming, that refugees are not responsible for what they're trying to escape. But this book's strengths are not in its political messages, but in its accessibility for all ages, its real and nuanced emotion, its down-to-earth nature, and its constant hope.

A lot of the pre-publication media I read about this book compared it to John Boyne's 'The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas', and when you read the blurb, you may well think the same, but the only links between the two books that I could see was a friendship formed on two sides of a fence, and one child belonging to a persecuted ethnic group. 'The Bone Sparrow' is full of hope in a way that 'Boy in the Striped Pyjamas' is not, and it gives it a wonderful and uplifting sense that yes, change is still possible. These people are not lost in the past, theyíre out there right now and we can make a difference. Fraillonís author's note at the end of this book is well worth a read as she outlines the very real background to her novel. Fraillonís writing is beautiful, earnest, honest and endearing, and is the most hopeful book about such a serious and real situation that Iíve ever read. It touches on so many issues, including grief, suicide, strikes, and mental illness. This is a book I want to share with absolutely everyone, and if youíre reading this review, you absolutely have to just go and read it!
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