My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This book broke my heart as I read it. It is as much an indictment on our nation’s treatment of asylum seekers and refugees as it is a novel about a friendship that defies all the odds.
Subhi is a child of detention. Born in a detention centre somewhere in outback Australia, he has no mother or father any more. He survives by the good graces of other detainees and the favouritism of a “Jacket” named Harvey. Subhi has a vivid imagination – at times it is the only thing that keeps him sane – and he imagines the surrounding countryside is a stormy ocean. Some of the imagery in this novel is just beautiful, and it has to be to make us want to stay with Subhi in this nightmarish place. One day Jimmie speaks to Subhi through the fence and they become friends – connected by the magic of reading and stories. The connection Jimmie and Subhi feel is real and very deep – and eventually it becomes the difference between life and death.
Zana Frallion’s novel is lyrical, and sweet, and terrifying, and heartfelt, and most definitely needed in the Australian literary landscape. This would make a wonderful companion read to The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas as there are some similarities, but also plenty of differences for discussion.
Whilst the children in the book are quite young, this novel is absolutely more suited to readers 13 and up. A must-read.