"Indispensable." -- Booklist (starred review)
Subhi is a refugee. He was born in an Australian permanent detention center after his mother and sister fled the violence of a distant homeland, and the center is the only world he knows. But every night, the faraway whales sing to him, the birds tell him their stories, and the magical Night Sea from his mother's stories brings him gifts. As Subhi grows, his imagination threatens to burst beyond the limits of the fences that contain him. Until one night, it seems to do just that.
Subhi sees a scruffy girl on the other side of the wire mesh, a girl named Jimmie, who appears with a notebook written by the mother she lost. Unable to read it herself, Jimmie asks Subhi to unravel her family's love songs and tragedies that are penned there.
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 and made choices that could change everything.
Subhi hangs on his mother's stories of her life in Burma as a Rohingya, a persecuted ethnic Muslim minority. Subhi's Ma (mother) and his older sister were among the Rohingya exiled from their homeland and relegated to a detention center in Australia, where he was born. The 10-year-old's imagination helps him survive in a refugee camp ruled by abusive guards as he watches Ma sink into catatonia and waits in vain for the arrival of his father, an outspoken poet. Australian author Fraillon crafts a harrowing vision of life in the detention center (shoes are rarities, rats and mold are rampant, children race lice for fun), yet Subhi finds solace in sensitively portrayed friendships with a rebellious older boy, a compassionate guard, and an intrepid girl named Jimmie who sneaks into the camp to hear Subhi read stories her late mother recorded in a notebook; though most of the story is told from Subhi's first-person perspective, several third-person chapters focus on Jimmie's life outside the camp. While addressing themes of loss, desperation, and injustice in an all-too-relevant setting, Fraillon's resonant novel underscores the healing power of story. Ages 9 12.