By: Zana Fraillon
Genre: YFB - General fiction (Children's/Teenage)
Published by: Hachette Australia
Published: 28 Jun 2016
ISBN: 9780734417138


Sometimes, at night, the dirt outside turns into a beautiful ocean. As red as the sun and as deep as the sky. I lie in my bed, Queeny's feet pushing up against my cheek, and listen to the waves lapping at the tent. Subhi is a refugee.

Born in an Australian permanent detention centre after his mother fled the violence of a distant homeland, life behind the fences is all he has ever known. But as he grows, his imagination gets bigger too, until it is bursting at the limits of his world. The Night Sea brings him gifts, the faraway whales sing to him, and the birds tell their stories.

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 from the other side of the wires, and brings a notebook written by the mother she lost. Unable to read it, she relies on Subhi to unravel her own family's love songs and tragedies.

Subhi and Jimmie might both find a way to freedom, as their tales unfold. But not until each of them has been braver than ever before.


Zana Fraillon is fast becoming a real voice in Australian children’s literature and The Bone Sparrow is sure to strengthen her readership.

It follows the plight of a young Burmese-Australian boy, Subhi, in an Australian detention centre. A place he calls home as he was born there and had never been outside the fences.

He gains his life experience through stories his mother tells him, and maintains hope for his lost father through stories also told by her.
Life is bleak. Food is terrible. Guards are mostly cruel. Will he ever have a life on the outside or chance to visit the beach?

But then Jimmie arrives. She lives just outside the detention centre, with her ‘fly in fly out’ Dad and her older brother. Since her mother passed they cannot leave this desolate place where you feel almost nobody remains, as that would mean leaving her mother and her memories.

Jimmie breaks into the centre at night and brings with her a book of her mother’s stories that Subhi reads to her, and their bond grows. But reminiscent of The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, can any good come from breaking into a place that you are not supposed to escape from?

When tragedy strikes and tensions flare, we only hope that this gentle boy and his friend will one day experience a better life.

This is a great, topical, political discussion starter for 10—14 year olds. I loved it as it is easy to read, with subtle but powerful characters, that can’t help but make you think.

Reviewed by Rob