The Bone Sparrow by Zana Fraillon, Disney-Hyperion, 2016

The Bone Sparrow

Emily Lo Gibson

With the massive refugee crisis across the globe, it's hard to turn on the radio and not hear about the millions of people fleeing war, poverty and persecution. Certain places and people are familiar to our ears: Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan…

But what about those who often don’t make the news, like the Rohingya of Burma? Zana Fraillon does an admirable job of putting this little-known Muslim people group on the map with her new novel, The Bone Sparrow. While it’s written for a younger audience (middle grade), we all could benefit from reading it. We learn through the innocent eyes of ten-year-old Subhi, or DAR-1: the first child born in the detention camp where he and his family await decision on their immigration status.

The story of Subhi, his sister Queeny, and his mother Maá unwraps slowly. But soon, we find ourselves in the dusty detention camp, feeling the relentless beat of the sun, avoiding the threatening gaze of the Jackets (security guards). Subhi invites us to experience his imagined Night Sea, to muse on his hopes and dreams, to grapple with the confines of his “limbo life.” He is no longer a faceless refugee. We also meet our second narrator, the spunky, cheeky Jimmie who sneaks to the camp from the “Outside.” She’s technically “free,” but is also imprisoned by her own grief and precarious state. We learn how unseen she has been as well.

This friendship, crossing cultures and status, is most endearing and fun to read. (Look for the Shakespeare Duck and dreamy food sessions!) Yet it doesn’t shy away from the stark realities of camp life. There were several times when I found my heart racing and full of sorrow, even as I found moments to laugh and smile.

The Bone Sparrow is a creative way for us at Stone Hill to think about being dedicated followers of Christ who “Impact Our World” by bridging that gap between the refugee and us. Just as Subhi and Jimmie found common ground, we, too, can welcome the stranger, the “other” into our lives. After reading the book, consider contacting the Missions Team in order to learn more about refugees in our area, or learning about and praying for a people group in “limbo.”

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