Detention by Tristan Bancks

cover image

Puffin, 2019. ISBN: 9780143791799.
(Age: 11+) Highly recommended. With chapter headings marking the passing minutes, this fast-paced novel takes place within one confronting morning - as a young refugee girl on the run from detention crosses paths with a boy trying to rescue a brutalised dog. Sima and her family make the break amid a group of fifty, aided by activists who cut through the wire fence around an Australian detention camp, but in the panic of pursuit she is separated from her parents and knows she just has to keep running, hoping to eventually be reunited with them and relatives in a place called Leeton. Dan is a dishevelled caravan park kid, reluctantly on his way to school, when he comes across a chained up dog covered in wounds. His plans to carry back some water for the dog are frustrated when the school goes into lock-down, as armed Border Force police search the grounds for fugitive refugees. Dan sees the girl in hijab hiding in the toilet block.
Thus, Dan is thrust into a moral dilemma, should he turn the girl into the authorities? Sima says that her family is about to be deported to danger. Out of fear of torture and death, her parents have made the desperate decision to flee, carrying with them her baby sister. She needs help to get to Leeton to find them again. Dan knows that means he will be breaking the law, aiding her carries severe penalties . . . but maybe sometimes the law is wrong. How can it be right to imprison children? How can his country send families to danger? Sima's fate rests in his hands - what should he do?
There are many heart-stopping moments as the two are forced to make quick decisions about who they can trust, and where they can go, always with danger close behind. Whilst the book reads like a fast-paced thriller, the characters are very real, particularly the character of Dan, struggling to keep his life together in a situation that reflects loneliness and neglect, but who is capable of thinking and caring more deeply than his peers. He faces a moral dilemma that challenges ideas of right and wrong, good and bad . . . It is a thought-provoking story, really well written, with a satisfying and realistic conclusion. Teacher's notes are available.
Helen Eddy