Review Blog

Nov 01 2014

Paper planes by Allayne Webster

cover image

Scholastic, 2014. ISBN 9781742990699
(Age: 11+) Recommended. War, Serbia, Yugoslavia. Huddled in their bombed apartment, collecting water from a council pipe, and burning everything they find to make fuel to cook their sparse amount of food, Niko and his family come to a decision to try and escape. They have stayed in the hope that the war known as the Bosnian War would cease and peace restored, but this is not happening. Niko and his mother are kept hiding in rubble for a whole day by snipers, two of their children have been conscripted and random men force their way into the apartment looking for food, money an jewels, eyeing the women with hungry eyes.
Webster gives an immediacy to their plight, reminiscent of Christobel Mattingley's Asmir series published twenty years ago.
We feel for each member of the family, father making tough decisions, Mum struggling to keep food in their mouths, one day going out to collect nettles, Jarko being called up to fight and their daughter called to work as a nurse, while next door a frightened Muslim family lives, fearful that they will be killed, and wondering how their neighbours see them.
Sarajevo is under siege, people are dying of starvation as well as being killed, and no one seems willing to help those caught in the middle. Using any contacts the family has, Niko is able to leave using the underground, but must go alone, his parents not having the money to escape as well. His life as a refugee begins.
A story for our time, the plight of ordinary people caught between armed invading forces is seen everyday on the news and in the papers, so this book brings an intimate view of the effect conflicts such as these have on everyday lives. Wonderful as a read for understanding and a good story to boot, it will also be a great novel for study in middle school, with teacher notes available on the author's website.
Fran Knight

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