Ten-year-old Subhi has never known life outside the Australian detention center where he was born; his pregnant mother fled from the violence of their home country, seeking asylum but landing in a refugee camp that is more like a prison. To Subhi, though, his living conditions don’t seem too terrible: he’s got a best friend, a kindly guard that looks after him, and the hope that his father will eventually find his family and bring them home. Jimmie, a young girl on the outside, wanders the small town that surrounds the center, trying to escape the reality of her mother’s death. She meets Subhi one night through the center’s fence and the two strike up a hesitant friendship, but a rebellion is brewing on the inside that could destroy everything. Fraillon is careful to keep most of the violence offstage, but the vague threat of torture and death hangs over Subhi and the other refugees’ every move. As the resistance movement grows in the camp, he moves from confusion about the rebels’ cause, anger at their disruption, and finally horror as he sees his friend Eli, one of the leaders of the uprising, beaten to death by a guard. Jimmie’s presence seems somewhat superfluous but underlines the theme of the book; she is as much of a witness to the tragedy of Subhi’s experience as he is to Eli’s death. An extensive author’s note discusses the plight of refugees around the world.
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