Sparrow by Scot Gardner
Allen and Unwin, 2017. ISBN 9781760294472
(Age: 12+) Highly recommended. Survival. Juvenile detention. Escapes. Homelessness. Sparrow is a 16 year old boy who doesn't speak. He has been accused of murdering his brother and sent to juvenile detention. On a trip home after a boot camp, the boat is wrecked and he finds himself fighting for his life in shark and crocodile infested waters as he swims for shore and freedom. Can he survive the physical problems on the isolated Kimberley coast as well as the mental issues that have kept him from speaking for years?
The reader is kept in suspense as Gardner describes in alternative chapters Sparrow's life as a homeless boy, living in the ceiling of a toilet and getting food in exchange for putting out chairs at local restaurants and his life as a survivor in the bush. Gradually Sparrow's background unfolds. He is determined not to become a 'ghost boy', drinking and becoming a criminal, like his brother, and he is helped out by an old man who helps him learn to swim and a friendly cafe owner. His self-sufficiency and survival skills help him out in the bush as he finds water and shelter and manages to help a girl who was also stranded. Sparrow must not only survive the physical obstacles but he also has to find the emotional courage to overcome the problems that have brought about his mutism.
Gardner's story will bring home the plight of homeless children who have no voice and very few people who will advocate for them. There are glimpses of hopefulness with the old man who teaches him how to swim and new foster parents who stand up for him.
I read this in one sitting, thrilled by the survival aspects of Sparrow's ordeal, and appalled by the life that he was leading on the streets. Fans of Hatchet will be interested to contrast survival in the hot Australian bush with survival in the cold regions. This would make an excellent class novel or literature circle book. There are extensive teachers' notes by Ananda Braxton-Smith at the publisher's website.