Subhi, born in the Australian detention center, doesn’t know any other life. I read The Bone Sparrow by Zana Fraillon in an ARC furnished by Net Galley before its release on November 1. Engrossed in this tale set in the detention center, I tried to think how to convey the way the author personalized this lost cause. She helped me out as I read an interview with her after I finished reading. Mother of three children under ten, she said she looked at how her children see an issue, "Kids don't see numbers and statistics, they see the human side of the story."
People who were not born in the system, whom he calls “oldies,” ask Subhi to draw things he has not seen. He begs them to tell the stories so he can see what they remember. “I need these stories. Everyone else in here has memories to hold on to. . . I need their stories. I need them to make my memories.” Other stories come from Jimmie who makes her way secretly from the outside into the camp with her mother’s notebooks that she can’t read. They bond and become friends as he reads her mother’s stories to her.
Subhi waits for the arrival of his Ba, whom he has never seen, while his Maa lies mostly unresponsive on the bed. His older bossy sister Queeny, surreptitiously takes pictures for some reason unknown to Subhi, although the reader will know she has found a way to get them to the outside with hope that someone will intervene for them. As bad as life is in the center, a greater fear is being sent to another country where they are not wanted, where even its own people die of starvation and disease.
The mood of the story and Subhi’s method of coping is captured in one of the many crises that pop up, “I pretend that someday everything will be different. Just not today, is all.”
While no reason is given for Subhi and his family to be in the detention center, the story puts a human face on those who exist in such conditions whether because of a natural disaster or some type of ethnic purging. It’s a book well worth reading and discussing with a middle schooler if you have one.