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.
***I received this eARC as a gift in exchange for an honest review via NetGalley & Disney-Hyperion
Sometimes a great book is balm for the soul, and other times, a book wakes you up. Sometimes the darkness in this world is too much that it’s easy to look away and selectively forget the atrocities that happen every single day to people who seek nothing but peace and a place to call home. The Bone Sparrow reads like a folktale. With a blend of lyrical storytelling, startling bursts of horrific reality, and two children from different worlds even though they live footsteps apart, The Bone Sparrow brings those who don’t have a voice and are cast aside like a dirty little secret to vibrant life.
Subhi is dreamer. Caught up in his world of stories and a father he’s never met, his hope is a burst of light and longing that fights hard against the injustice that surrounds him. Cushioned by his child-like wonder at the simple magic of dreams, words, and legends, Subhi is a captivating character. His words are innocent and full of loyalty. He holds those he loves so high as protectors and the good. What others see as negative, he sees as okay because he’s never known any different being born in the refugee camp. Kids find truths and say them with such simplicity that it’s both profound and enlightening. So many times, I had to pause and reread. What initially seems light and offhand is actually jarring in its insight. After witnesses something truly despicable and triggering, Subhi’s world is no longer Night Seas and whales who sing to the moon, it’s starvation, pain, and abuse. It’s a letdown he never expected. This awakening is heartbreaking and crushing. This perfect little spirit who lived the world on a cloud and reveled in simple happiness broken and downtrodden. Seriously, it sucks the life right out of you. So powerful and emotional.
Friendship is everything in this story. It’s a hero, it’s a savior, it’s hope and longing and love. This unlikely pairing between a motherless girl with just as much yearning as Subhi, clinging to a past that she refuses to let go, is so special.
Some parts of this story are graphic and dark. This book is categorized as MG on some sites and I’d really consider it before sharing with young kids. Though the protagonists are 10, the subject matter is more mature. The violence might be a bit much, especially one scene in particular.
The pacing was so-so. The build up far less and later than I would have hoped for to create the right amount of tension and anxiety.
Jimme is an outside oblivious to what is really going on behind the fence or to how detention centers work. She’s heard rumors of how lucky the refugees are, how much food they get, and her curiosity makes her fearless. Jimmie doesn’t have a care in the world besides her desperation to preserve the last vestiges of her mother through her mother’s journal. Like Subhi, she doesn’t understand what she’s looking at and no one takes the time to explain. Those who are part of the situation and don’t explain the gravity are just as culpable as those who ignore. Jimmie’s ignorance is hurtful, but full of heart. She adores Subhi and their friendship is cute and full of instance love. Through stories, they grow to trust and rely on each other.
The story of Burma, the conditions in refugee camps, detainment centers, how those seeking asylum are treated are all brushed under the rug unless it is brought to international headlines and even then it disappears after a while. What happens to these people? How are they living? Who is helping them? Are they getting help at all or are they worse off? These questions and many more are addressed and examined in this book. They shouldn’t be forgotten and unfortunately, it takes perseverance and willingness to care, and compassion to make change.