FRAILLON, Zana No Stars to Wish On Allen & Unwin, 2014 167pp $15.99 pbk ISBN 9781743315149 SCIS 1657186
In an unidentified country and time, a small deaf boy and his siblings are taken from their village home and put into a harshly regimented ‘Home’ run by nuns, into separate areas where there is no communication between them. Another sister is taken off somewhere else in a truck. No reason is given why these children have been removed from their family, although it is obvious that they lived in extreme poverty. The boy, Jack, is bewildered to be identified only as Number 49, and given clothes labelled with that number. He holds imaginary conversations with this ‘other’ Number 49, searching for clues of him in his dormitory and around the Home. Meanwhile, another member of Jack’s family with the gift of ‘seeing’ is searching for the missing children. In between memories of his hard-working mother, three great aunts and great Grandmother at home, Jack tries to cheer everyone up with his fund of remembered jokes, but this is an almost impossible battle as the nuns have rigid routines and brutal control of all the children. Gradually Jack discovers some nightmarishly disturbing evidence of what may have happened to his alter-ego, the previous Number 49.
While the story is superbly well written, and all characters and their terrible experiences are wrenchingly believable, this was an extremely difficult book to review, as all events are told from the point of view of 6 year old Jack, fighting to maintain health and hope in the face of seemingly overwhelmingly negative forces and cruel adults. While there are some small glimmers of hope at the end, and although the main protagonist is only very young, this story is far too confronting, heart-breaking and even terrifying to recommend reading by primary aged children. This is not a fantasy, it is all too real. Thought-provoking and devastatingly good, but recommended for mature secondary readers to adults, preferably with some avenues for shared discussion and support.
reviewed by Chlöe Mauger