Reader Reviewed The Bone Sparrow A Refugee Novel by Zana Fraillon

The Bone Sparrow A Refugee Novel

Written by Zana Fraillon

11+ readers   All Shortlists and Winners   13+ readers   Guardian Fiction Prize   
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Shortlisted for the Guardian Children's Fiction Prize 2016 | In a Nutshell: Refugees | Resilience | Friendship A heartfelt, harrowing insight into life as a Rohingya refugee in an Australian detention centre, told through the unforgettable voice of an unforgettable boy.

Subhi is one of the Limbo kids in a permanent Australian detention centre, the first to be born in the camp after his Maá and big sister Queeny fled violent persecution in Burma. While he’s only experienced life within the cruel confines of the camp, Subhi’s rich imagination has conjured a magical, solace-giving world in which the Night Sea from his Maá’s tales brings him treasures from his dad. Stories are Subhi’s lifeline. He needs them “to make my memories” and imagines a blanket of stories, a “gigantic blanket big enough to warm everyone”.

A new story treasure transforms Subhi’s world in the form of Jimmie, a local girl who finds her way into the camp. She too knows heartache. She’s lost her mum, who used to tell her special tales and gave her a bone sparrow necklace that “carried the souls of all her family”. When Jimmie enters Subhi’s life, he wonders if she’s his guardian angel, though he hadn't expected an angel to have more holes in her clothes than him. And, on meeting Subhi, Jimmie realises that she’s “never had a friend she wanted to share everything with before”, and so she shares her mum’s stories with him, stories he reads to her since she’s unable to read them herself.

Subhi's unique voice will weave its way into your heart and under your skin. His descriptions of life in the centre are hauntingly evocative. You feel, for example, the heat of days that get his “skin creeping” and make everything “jangly and loud and scratchy”. Through Subhi, readers experience how it might feel to have no home or voice, and how friendship can lighten the darkest of circumstances. One hopes, as Subhi’s Maá says, that “someday they see we belong.” Both elegant and raw, this is an important and timely novel that bears witness to the risks people take to make their voice heard, and to the resilience of the human spirit. ~ Joanne Owen

Zana Fraillon felt compelled to write her novel The Bone Sparrow because she could not ignore the millions of people who were being forcibly displaced and the millions of children missing out on a childhood. Zana comments, “The Bone Sparrow was written so we remember the people behind the statistics. Those 65 million stories waiting to be told, those 33 million children wondering if their futures will ever be realised. It was written so we can find the courage to stand for humanity, and the wisdom to imagine a different world. It was written so we may all live in hope.”

Guardian Children's Fiction Prize Judge SF Said: “Moving and memorable, The Bone Sparrow deserves to be read by all who care about our common humanity.”

Reader Reviews

Teens love to read and so in addition to our Lovereading expert opinion some of our older Lovereading4kids Reader Review Panel were also lucky enough to read and review this title. You can read their full reviews by clicking here.

  • Sophie Bridges, age 13 - 'I think The Bone Sparrow By Zana Fraillon is a really adventurous and exiting book.'
  • Anastasia Abdian, age 11 - 'The Bone Sparrow is a very emotional book. It will allow you to know more about how refugees are treated and how they live in the detention camps. It is an amazing book.'
  • Eloise Mae Clarkson, age 14 - 'This book is about a boy (Subhi) who lives in a refugee detention centre and it highlights his daily struggles. This story is an interesting blend of fact with fiction.'
  • Imogen Breaks, age 13 - 'The Bone Sparrow is a story of two children's journey to freedom, but first they have to survive.  This novel is quite a difficult read as the refugees face many horrors but it's worth reading.'
  • Ella O'Gorman, age 11 - 'Bone Sparrow is a wonderful, thought-provoking and sad book. It tells the story of Subhi, his mother and sister, who are Rohingya refugees and are living indefinitely in a detention centre.'
  • Hannah, age 15 - 'This is a great book for 11 to 12 year olds, it is very captivating and gets very fast paced at major moments.'
  • Amy Laws, age 14 - 'Inspiring, eye-opening and emotional- I was hooked by this novel from the very first line.'
  • Isaac Phelan, age 12 - 'A deeply moving novel that expresses a refugee child's desire to thrive.'
  • Edward bailey, age 11 - 'Breathtaking!'
  • Daniel Mann, age 12- 'The Bone Sparrow is an inspirational book about a young naïve boy, Subhi. This book may be fiction but it holds a truth to real life and one of its bigger problems. If you read this be ready to cry.
  • Jodi Coffman, age 14 - 'This book was really captivating and had me hanging on every word.'
  • Adam Goodman, age 13 - 'Whilst it was hard to get into, I really enjoyed it afterwards and found it extremely exciting.
  • Dylan Sweet, age 13 - 'I rate this four stars and, due to violent scenes, for readers aged 11 and up. It is an original book and I’ve not read one like it.' 
  • Destiny Maraj, age, 14- 'It is definitely a book for today, addressing the global issue of refugees and displaced people. I really enjoyed this novel.'


The Bone Sparrow A Refugee Novel by Zana Fraillon

Subhi is a refugee who has spent all ten years of his life in a detention centre. Jimmie is a girl who lives on the Outside. Beautiful, vivid, and deeply moving, The Bone Sparrow is an important, timely story of survival and bravery, perfect for fans of The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas. This novel reminds us all of the importance of freedom, hope, and the power of a story to speak for anyone who's ever struggled to find a safe home. Born in a refugee camp, all Subhi knows of the world is that he's at least 19 fence diamonds high, the nice Jackets never stay long, and at night he dreams that the sea finds its way to his tent, bringing with it unusual treasures. And one day it brings him Jimmie. Carrying a notebook that she's unable to read and wearing a sparrow made out of bone around her neck - both talismans of her family's past and the mother she's lost - Jimmie strikes up an unlikely friendship with Subhi beyond the fence. As he reads aloud the tale of how Jimmie's family came to be, both children discover the importance of their own stories in writing their futures.

Subhi’s story is just one story, but we believe it gives voice to a million refugees. We’re taking the responsibility of this subject matter very seriously. We have partnered with Book Aid International and for every copy of The Bone Sparrow sold, we will donate a book to a refugee child.


The writing is beautiful and the message of survival and bravery a universal one The Bookseller

...a special book - Morris Gleitzman, author of the acclaimed ONCE series

About the Author

Zana Fraillon

Zana Fraillon lives in Victoria, Australia with her husband and three sons. She worked as a primary school teacher before having children, and has had picture books and middle grade fiction published in Australia.

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Book Info


240 pages
Interest Age: From 12


Zana Fraillon
More books by Zana Fraillon


Orion Children's Books an imprint of Hachette Children's Group

Publication date

14th July 2016




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