The Bone Sparrow

240p. ebook available. Disney-Hyperion. Nov. 2016. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781484781517.
Gr 5 Up—Subhi knows only life in the Australian refugee detention center where he was born, and lately, things are getting worse. His mother is increasingly lethargic, older sister Queeny is bossy and angry, and his best friend Eli has been transferred to the single men's compound. The Jackets (guards) are unfriendly, except for Harvey, who occasionally brings presents and diversions. It's at this low point that Subhi meets Jimmie, a local child who finds her way into the camp. Jimmie's mother has died, and between her father's grief and his erratic work schedule, she is alone for long periods. Jimmie can't read, so she asks Subhi to read aloud her mother's notebooks, which contain stories from her mother's past. The unrelenting conditions of the camp result in a tragic situation that impacts both children. Fraillon creates a complex narrative, weaving tales from Subhi, Jimmie, and the notebooks. The characters and situations are portrayed realistically—once Eli has gone, Subhi cannot withstand the bullying of some of the older boys and is pressured into an act of animal cruelty. Kind guard Harvey is also shown to be unable to deal with peer pressure. While the book is fictional, the author based it on research and reports of life in Australian detention centers, where conditions are grim. Readers will come away with a raised awareness of life in such centers, but why these facilities exist is not discussed. Students may be inspired to do their own research on organizations working to better the lives of refugees.
VERDICT A thought-provoking and affecting selection that highlights a current situation in many countries. Hand to readers who appreciated Linda Sue Park's A Long Walk to Water.

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