The ones that disappeared by Zana Fraillon

cover image

Lothian, 2017. ISBN 9780734417152
(Age: 12+) Recommended. Esra, Miran and Isa are three children trapped by human traffickers, and forced to spend every day tending to drug plants in a basement for the cruel and merciless Orlando, the leader of the Snakeskins. They have been branded with the Snakeskin brand so that there is no escape, they can always be identified and tracked down, and even if one of them does escape they know that the ones remaining will be brutally beaten. Someone will always pay, possibly with their life.
Fraillon's story is very evocative in the depiction of the terror the children feel, the horror of punishment, and the sense of entrapment; there is nobody they can trust - even the police could be linked to the traffickers. Even more than that, is the feeling that the children have of losing their identity and their sense of humanity, slowly being groomed to enslave others. Esra feels how she craves Orlando's approval, feels how desperate she is for care and attention, to be rewarded, but knows she has to hang on to a sense of who she really is. She has to stay strong, and be a speaker for the dead and the living. Misran is a great source of comfort, with his riddles that challenge their intellect, and his stories that inspire hope and memories of another life. But on a fateful night when Misran urges Esra and Isa to take their chance to run, he is the one that is caught and has to pay.
Hiding in a fox's cave, Esra and Isa are befriended by a boy full of jokes and chatter, running from his own set of family problems. The three of them have to find a way to stay safe, and to rescue Misran before it is too late.
Fraillon's story while incorporating a sense of adventure and aspects of fantasy reveals the very real plight of human trafficking, something that is happening even today in Australia. The author's note at the end of the book states that there are over 30 million people currently enslaved, and more than a quarter of those are children. Her book brings the spotlight to an issue that many are unaware of, and the story is a call to find the disappeared children and help them to be heard.
Helen Eddy