Book Review: “The Bone Sparrow” by Zana Fraillon

“The Bone Sparrow” by Zana Fraillon

Genre: YA/Middle Grade, Contemporary, Fiction

Page Length: 240 pages (electronic review copy)


Subhi is a refugee. Born in an Australian permanent detention center after his mother and sister fled the violence of a distant homeland, Subhi has only ever known life behind the fences. But his world is far bigger than that—every night, the magical Night Sea from his mother’s stories brings him gifts, the faraway whales sing to him, and the birds tell their stories. And as he grows, his imagination threatens to burst beyond the limits of his containment.
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 on the other side of the wire fence and brings with her a notebook written by the mother she lost. Unable to read it herself, she relies on Subhi to unravel her family’s love songs and tragedies.
Subhi and Jimmie might both find comfort—and maybe even freedom—as their tales unfold. But not until each has been braver than ever before. (Description from Goodreads)


The Bone Sparrow, set in Austrailia, follows a 10-year-old boy named Subhi, who was born in a detention camp for refugees. He lives there with his mother and sister, (named) Queeny, who fled Burma years ago. The camp seems bleak and is monitored by multiple cameras and “jackets”, the nickname Subhi gives to the enforcers who are in charge. The weather is blazing hot, the food provisions are poor, and the people lack basic necessities in order to live.

The novel is told in two different point of views. Our main character Subhi, has a very vivid imagination which allows him to escape the realities of the camp he is trapped aside. He also seeks friendship in his “brother”, Eli, who always has his back and takes care of him. The two are inseparable. Jimmie, our other main character, is a girl (similar to Subhi’s age) who lives outside the detention center. Though she lives with her dad and brother, she is very lonely. She has moved from place to place throughout her childhood since her mother’s death at a young age. From her mother’s absence she tries to fill an empty void.

After Jimmie’s and Subhi’s initial meeting in the camp, their friendship grows. Jimmie sneaks into the center and lets Subhi reads the stories she can’t. In turn, Jimmie shares her out stories of the “outside world”, giving Subhi the hope that one day he will be free. The two share a special bond and throughout the story their friendship helps to ease the emptiness inside of them.

I sought out this story initially because of the topics that were discussed in this book. It’s a very timely novel, that deals with refugee crisis that we constantly seek in the news.It touches on the horrible conditions of detention camps among other issues. Fraillon mixes a heavy dose of fictional characters with a harsh realty in order to create an important story. Reading the point of the story where Subhi finally comes to the realization that he is unwanted certain multiple events occur, had me in tears.

The book’s plot has an overall smooth progression and the writing style is a bit unique. At times the writing was a bit jarring and that took away from the story, but other than that this book was solid. The Bone Sparrow raises awareness about human rights issues that need to be heard. Though it’s sometimes difficult to read these types of narratives, stories like these are essential to literature in order to educate ourselves.

Final Verdict:


FTC Disclaimer: I received this book from Netgalley in exchange for a fair and honest review.


6 thoughts on “Book Review: “The Bone Sparrow” by Zana Fraillon

  1. I really, really want to read this. I added it to my list a few months back at the recommendation of another blogger, and when all that talk about Trump and Australia and refugees was going on recently, it just reminded me that I super want to read this book.

    1. Same here. With all that’s going on today’s society. I wanted to expand my reading of different narratives, especially ones dealing with the issues this book addresses. I hope you enjoy it, if you decide to read it!

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