Book Review | The Bone Sparrow

Author // Zana Fraillon     
Publication Date // 2016
Publisher // Lothian Children’s Book
Genre // Young Adult
Rating // ⭐︎


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.


The Bone Sparrow is a heart-breaking story of a young boy named Subhi, and a young girl named Jimmie, as their lives intertwine at the detention centre where Subhi and his mother and sister are held.

Subhi was born in the detention centre – the first child to born in this particular one – and at ten years of age, it’s the only world he has ever known. Told from his perspective, we see the world through his eyes; he doesn’t understand everything about his situation, and so we, as readers, are left to fill the gaps. A very imaginative child, Subhi’s story is told in a wonderfully lyrical and symbolic style – he dreams of a night sea that brings him gifts and loves to hear other people’s stories. He carries around a rubber duck, named Shakespeare, that talks to him, illuminating many of Subhi’s inner thoughts.

Along with Subhi, and his family, we meet his best friend, Eli – an older boy who’s behaviour in the family camp sees him on the receiving end of more attention than he wants – and Jimmie, a local girl who’s knowledge and understanding of the detention centre is not great; she just knows there’s a boy there who can help her read her deceased mother’s journal, revealing her family’s past. We also follow the story of one of the guards at the centre, and the fallout that comes from working in a place like that.

This is an incredibly powerful story, told in a beautiful way; it is easily accessible to readers, thought-provoking and worthy of discussion. Even now, just thinking back on it, all the feelings I felt whilst reading are at the fore of my mind.

The Bone Sparrow is one book that I cannot highly recommend enough. 4.5 out of 5 stars.

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