- Age Range: 10 - 13 years
- Grade Level: 4 - 7
- Hardcover: 240 pages
- Publisher: Disney-Hyperion (November 1, 2016)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1484781511
- ISBN-13: 978-1484781517
- Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 0.8 x 8.5 inches
- Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #458,953 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Bone Sparrow Hardcover – November 1, 2016
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From School Library Journal
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.—Michelle Anderson, Tauranga City Libraries, New Zealand
"Thought-provoking and affecting... Hand to readers who appreciated Linda Sue Park's A Long Walk to Water."―School Library Journal
"The Bone Sparrow is a book you'll feel in your chest long after you finish. It's about stories that ache to be told, and the transformational power of sharing them. Though Subhi's journey is confined by fences, he finds magic and great injustice, tragedy and courage-and ultimately, wings."―Kirsten Hubbard, author of Watch the Sky and Race the Night
"An author worth watching."―Kirkus Reviews
"A special book."―Morris Gleitzman, author of Once
* "Fraillon crafts a harrowing vision of life in the detention center, yet Subhi finds solace in sensitively portrayed friendships with a rebellious older boy, a compassionate guard, and an intrepid girl named Jimmie While addressing themes of loss, desperation, and injustice in an all-too-relevant setting, Fraillon's resonant novel underscores the healing power of story."―Publishers Weekly (starred review)
"Fraillon's story is stark and urgent; her afterword tells more about the "all-too-true reality" that inspired the book."―The Horn Book
"Outstanding... This is an important, heartbreaking book with frequent, unexpected humor that everyone...should read."―The Guardian
* "The pivoting story line, with chapters alternating among Subhi, Jimmie, and sparkling slivers of family lore, allows Fraillon to explore the many faces of otherness, bravery, and solidarity. But Subhi's narrative, whether he's squabbling with a rubber duck or searching the stars, remains the standout of the three: wide-eyed, heartfelt, and infectiously imaginative... This tale is breathtaking and indispensable. As Subhi might say, 'there is a fierce' inside of it."―Booklist (starred review)
"Zana Fraillon's powerful and poetic tale of friendship in the face of injustice will fly away with your heart."―Katherine Marsh, Edgar Award-winning author of The Night Tourist
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Top customer reviews
This fictional narrative relates to Subhi, who is a child who is born in an Australian detention camp to a refugee from Myanmar. The narrative follows, Subhi as he grows up in an environment that no child should go through. This book is written for children from eight to twelve-years-old.
As a counterpoint, there are sporadic chapters written in the third person. This concerns the life of Jimmie, a girl from the outside of the detention camp. Her, narrative, provides both her own storyline and in addition there is a way to see the dissimilarity of what people may deliberate over on what goes on, and what actually happens inside of these camps.
The story line does an exceptional job of presenting very challenging subjects at a fitting reading level without making superficially attractive any of the horrors that are being told. I believe any age group from ten and up should read “The Bone Sparrow”.
This is a thought-provoking read, which tells a tale of great import.
Zana Fraillon, an Australian author, has penned a heart breaking and thoroughly compelling tale about refugees in her latest book, The Bone Sparrow that is centered around a young refugee boy living his days with his mother and his elder sister in an Australian detention camp where he spends his days helping his orphan friend to smuggle and with an outsider to help her read the stories about her family history, all the while longing to meet his father across the ocean and to save his soul from such a wretched place.
Subhi is a refugee. Born in an Australian permanent detention center after his mother and sister fled the violence of a distant homeland, Subhi has only ever known life behind the fences. But his world is far bigger than that—every night, the magical Night Sea from his mother's stories brings him gifts, the faraway whales sing to him, and the birds tell their stories. And as he grows, his imagination threatens to burst beyond the limits of his containment.
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 on the other side of the wire fence and brings with her a notebook written by the mother she lost. Unable to read it herself, she relies on Subhi to unravel her family's love songs and tragedies.
Subhi and Jimmie might both find comfort—and maybe even freedom—as their tales unfold. But not until each has been braver than ever before.
Subhi is a 10 year old Rohingya refugee from Myanmar living in an Australian detention camp along with his mother and elder sister, where the living conditions are extremely poor, not to mention the worm-filled food that they are fed in a handful amount once a day. But Subhi is content with his life as well as with his unhinged dreams about the Night Sea bringing him gifts from across the ocean, in that detention camp where he along with his best friend, Eli, played all day or sometimes Subhi helped his friend to smuggle things around the camp. But once Eli is sent away to live with older single men in a different part of the camp, Subhi found yet another friend in his rubber duck that one of the guards brought for him and surprisingly he shared about his day with the duck and that duck advised right back him. And when Jimmie, a 10 year old girl manages to enter the camp from the outside, Subhi finds the world even more enthralling and mysterious beyond his imagination, although there are lots of mature decisions that Subhi needs to take before he loses his friends as well as his family in that wretched life forever.
The lives of refugees are hard, that we know, but how painful that are and how unfortunate that are, we rarely get to know that. As least from the inside. And that's what this talented writer has succeeded by penning a strikingly heart breaking story of a little refugee boy born in a detention camp, where the living conditions are so poor that a normal human being cannot imagine to live there even for a day. Through this 10 year old child's voice, the readers will get a thorough insight into the raw and honest world of refugees in detention camps, a human being, with no passport to go back home and at the same time, no permission to settle in a foreign country, its more liking living on the edge of a country, ill-treated daily to remind them that they are outsiders and that they must be grateful towards the country who are allowing them to live and eat for free.
The author's writing style is coherent and extremely brilliant, laced beautifully with deep, heart felt emotions that will make the readers fall for the story. The narration is thoroughly evocative and innocent as the author gracefully captures the voice of a 10 year old boy through whose eyes the readers can easily comprehend the world without flaws. The dialogues are so compelling that it will beg the readers to keep a firm grip on the story till the very last page. The story is unraveled without much layers yet it aspires for a slow pace, so impatient readers must look away, whereas this turns out to be a perfect read for all those who love to enjoy a novel gradually through its folds and progression.
The characters are well developed, complete with realism to make them look believable in the eyes of the readers. The protagonist, Subhi is an innocent little child with a smart mind and knows how to survive mutely in harsh conditions, and his sense of responsibility towards his family is really beyond any words. He reflects impeccable maturity despite of his tender age when it is necessary but his story will keep the readers rooted till the very end. The supporting characters are equally well etched out, especially the characters of Subhi's bossy elder sister, the sweet and loving Jimmie with a plan, the clever rubber duck with a sharp mouth and a strong yet sad young orphan boy, Eli. Each and every characters from this book are bound to leave an impression on the minds of the readers long after the end of this story.
In a nutshell, this heart wrenching story will make the readers shed a tear or two for the characters' plight in a sad, sad dump that they call it home.
“I find my notebook and pencil and I start to write. The letters flow from deep inside me without even a pause to worry about which way is which and where to put what. And my head fills with memories and stories from so long ago that fences weren’t even invented yet. Stories that haven’t even happened yet. Stories that the world won’t see for years and years. All those stories swirl through my head, but I suck them all in and tell them to wait. Because first I have to write the most important story of them all. The story which isn’t even a story. The story that has to be told, no matter how hard it is to tell.”
Ten-year-old Subhi was born in an Australian detention center. Originally from Burma (Myanmar), his Maá and older sister Queeny (Noor) were forcibly removed by soldiers, put on a boat and compelled to set sail at gunpoint. His ba, a poet, was imprisoned by the government.
Their offense? Subhi and his family are Rohingya, an ethnic Muslim minority living in Buddhist-majority Myanmar. In the Author’s Note, Fraillon explains that “the United Nations and Amnesty International have declared the Rohingya to be one of the most persecuted people on earth, and a recent investigation by Al Jazeera News suggested that the government of Myanmar is committing genocide in its treatment of the Rohingya. The Rohingya are being hunted into extinction.”
For the past decade, they’ve been in limbo: unable to return to their native country, but unwelcome where they washed up. Like the United States, Australia has a policy of mandatory detention; refugees are treated much like criminals.
In order to keep his mind from turning to “mush,” Subhi clings to stories – the familiar, well-worn tales of his family, and new ones belonging to the nine hundred other refugees who live in the detention center alongside him. Especially cherished are those stories dreamed up by his ba; stories of the Night Sea, which sometimes washes over Subhi’s camp as he dreams, leaving cryptic treasures in its wake: A small statue of a knight. A little blue toy car. A sketch of a thousand birds in flight. A green coin rimmed with black smudges. Subhi believes that these are messages, sent by his ba – and that, one day, he’ll come in person to rescue them from this non-existence.
Jimmie lives up the road from the detention center. While she and her brother Jonah have explored most of the abandoned houses in their defunct mining town, the aura of sadness and despair that permeates the center has kept them away. But on the third anniversary of her mother’s death, overcome with a strange feeling of restlessness and curiosity, Jimmie sneaks out of her house and into the center. Also unable to sleep, Subhi is the only witness to this intruder, the ghostly girl with fiery red hair.
For a spell, he thinks he dreamed her up. That is, until she returns, her mother’s diary tucked under her arm. Jimmie can’t read, but Suhbi can – and he’s desperate for some new reading material. And so the pair dive into the story of Jimmie’s great-great-great-grandmother Anka, a girl who was born from an eggshell and rescued from a well. A girl who, like Subhi, was driven from her homeland at gunpoint.
Thus marks the beginning of a beautiful friendship – and also heralds tragedy and transformation, both inside the camp and without.
THE BONE SPARROW is…well, it’s spectacular. It’s raw and unflinching, yet gentle enough for younger readers. Even though this is a middle-grade book, it speaks to audiences of all ages, and with force and beauty and power. Books like this are why you see such an hostile backlash against calls for greater representation and diversity in literature: Words matter. Stories are powerful. With reading comes empathy; with empathy comes compassion and change. Books like THE BONE SPARROW can change hearts and minds and (hopefully) actions. If this book doesn’t make you blubber and cry and bleed, then I just don’t know.
The conditions in Subhi’s camp are deplorable. There are food shortages, water shortages, and doctor shortages. What little food they do get is bad: past-date, filled with bugs, spoiled enough to give the whole camp food poisoning. (Subhi reports that he even found a human tooth in his gruel once.) They live in the desert, in tents without air conditioning, and suffer from “dust sickness.” The kids do not attend school, nor is a teacher brought in to tutor them. Subhi only knows how to read because Queeny taught him – along with any other camp kid wishing to learn. The reading material is sparse, and as for toys? The children race lice and cockroaches for fun. Self-harming and suicide attempts are common enough that there’s a whole section of the camp (“Ford”) dedicated to inmates who need special protection – from themselves or others. Single men are segregated in their own area (“Alpha”), but it’s not unusual for boys to be thrown in there five or ten years ahead of their time. Abuse runs rampant, both among the inmates (see: Alpha and Ford) and, more commonly, the guards.
“’Coming here is a bit like waking up from a nightmare and then finding out that you aren’t awake at all,’ Queeny told me one time when we saw a boy try to hurt himself.”
You might wonder how much of this is true, or accurately reflects reality. According to the author, “The conditions I have described in this book have all been taken from reports of life in Australian detention centers.” Given how we treat our prisoners in the U.S. – i.e., American citizens – this sounds totally believable. Refugees are like prisoners, but with even fewer rights.
In addition to illustrating the conditions in detention centers, Fraillon does a lovely job of humanizing some of the people imprisoned within their walls. Despite his predicament, Subhi manages to retain some of his innocence and optimism; he’s a sweet and caring boy who you just want to enfold in your arms and never let go. Queeny and Eli are equally interesting: intelligent and brave, with an uncanny sense of how the world works (uncanny because they’ve been removed from it for so long). Queeny is often presented as a mean and annoying older sister – after all, this is Subhi’s story – yet she’s anything but, as Suhbi will eventually learn. Suffering from catatonic depression, Maá is mostly removed from the story, though we are treated to some lovely memories of her courtesy of Subhi.
Jimmie is charming too, and through her, we get a glimpse of how the outside world views the detention center. Mostly they are invisible, and that’s the point. The government (corporation?) deliberately constructed the center on the outskirts of an isolated mining town so that few people would know of its existence: out of sight, out of mind. When Queeny and Eli hatch their plans, their primary goal is simply to compel the outside world to acknowledge their existence. To know that they’re there, they’re suffering, and they matter.
“Jimmie looks at me and nods. ‘I know,’ she says. ‘I hear you.’”
But when Jimmie’s community does think of people like Subhi, it’s often with jealousy. In terms of the economy, things aren’t exactly coming up roses, and a lot of the families in Jimmie’s town are struggling (her own included). In their eyes, the refugees have got it good: three square meals a day, free housing and medical care, even trucks packed with shiny new bikes for the kids. (As to where they’ll ride ’em, it’s anyone’s guess.) Of course, nothing could be further from the truth. But it’s not like anyone would know the difference, since they couldn’t visit the detention center even if they wanted to. Nope, the people in charge want the community to remain ignorant and apathetic; this makes it all too easy to scapegoat the refugees and pit various disadvantaged groups against one another, so that they don’t unite and mobilize against those who profit off of oppression.
Buy this for your school or your library; for your son or daughter or niece or nephew; for your Trump-voting mom or your dad who’s “sick of all these people coming over here.” Put one in the hands of every stranger you meet on the street. This is a timely and necessary book, and one that everyone and anyone can benefit from reading.
Love trumps hate.
** Full disclosure: I received a free electronic ARC for review through NetGalley. **
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Subhi, the main character, is a child born inside an Australian detention...Read more