Available November 1, 2016
Every night, Subhi slips out of the compound in the refugee camp and finds the treasures he believes the magical Night Sea brings him from his far away father. Every morning he shows the gifts to his mother, now barely responsive. Subhi has only known life within the fences of the permanent detention center. Up the hill from the center lives a girl named Jimmie who bears her own grief. She comforts herself with her mother’s necklace pendant, a sparrow carved from bone. She meets Subhi, and begs him to read her mother’s journal to her. Subhi shares the pages, filled with stories and songs as magical as the ones his mother once told. As conditions worsen for both Jimmie and Subhi, each must find courage, as the characters from the songs and stories of their mothers did.
Bone Sparrow is one of those stories that will haunt you. From the first page, the beautiful narrative sucked me in. I immediately loved both Jimmie and Subhi and the colorful cast of characters in and out of the detention center. It reminded me very much of The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, and left me reeling much the same way that story did.
The latter part of the tale shows some pretty intense violence. Up until that point it felt like a solid, literary middle grade read, but the heaviness of that violence made me reconsider whether that’s really where the book belongs. Bone Sparrow definitely deserves a place on the shelf with John Boyne’s acclaimed novel and others that shine a light on world issues, like Blue Gold by Elizabeth Stewart and Over a Thousand Hills I Walk With You by Hanna Jansen.
What really left me speechless was the fact that the conditions Subhi and his family endure in the detention center are in fact based on real situations and reports. The way the Rohingya people have been treated in these camps is unbelievable. I’ve continued to read more about the people and their refugee status. I know that’s a very polarizing idea right now, but I encourage you to look up more information. I’ll post links below the content section of this review.
Jimmie and her family are Australian. Subhi is part of a group of Rohingya refugees from Myanmar, once Burma.
Note: The Rohingya people have been denied rights to citizenship by the Myanmar government and driven out or killed. Many live in refugee camps like the one described in this book.
Profanity/Crude Language Content
When a sparrow lands on Subhi’s bed, his sister warns him that this warns of death. At night Subhi believes a magical Night Sea brings him gifts from his father, who lives far away.
Brief mention of Gods in the stories written by Jimmie’s mother. The bone sparrow necklace plays a role in the stories, guiding a man to his lost love and offering protection.
Horrible conditions plague the refugees in the camp. Some begin a hunger strike, sewing their mouths closed. Refugees barricade themselves in one quarter. A fire starts. Soldiers and refugees fight. Subhi witnesses a soldier beat a boy to death.