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The Bone Sparrow: 03/19/18
The Bone Sparrow by Zana Fraillon is set in one of Australia's permanent detention centres for refugees. The main story is told from the point of view of Subhi, the first child born in the centre as he and his family and everyone else endures under the poor living conditions and terrible heat.
Subhi has his mother's stories to keep him going and he believes that the stories are coming true, bringing hope on the Night Ocean. His grasping at a magical solution is one of survival under inhumane conditions.
Were this book just about Subhi, his family, and the other refugees, I would rate this story higher. Unfortunately his story is pushed aside by the insertion of a girl, Jimmie, who lives in the town outside of the centre.
Sure, Jimmie has lost her mother and she's illiterate — two personal tragedies. And lucky for her, there's Subhi to read to her and to make her feel special. And that somehow makes Subhi's situation better even though nothing changes for him.
Take for instance the main motif — a sparrow. For Subhi, a sparrow in the house means death. Of course it does; death is all around him. If not actual death, it's the specter of it that lurks in the illness, the lack of food, the intolerable heat, and so forth. But Jimmie comes in with no sense of perspective and blithely says that a sparrow means hope. And from then on it does because of her privilege gives her the say-so.