Title: The Freedom Finders Series: Touch the Sun (Book #2)
Author: Emily Conolan
Genre: Young Adult Fiction
Publisher: Allen and Unwin
Published: 28th March 2018
Synopsis: Choose your own destiny and step into the shoes of a Somalian boy escaping war-torn Mogadishu for Australia in 2011 in this exciting interactive series.
To find freedom, you must leave behind everything you’ve ever known.
It is 2011. You want nothing more than to be a journalist in Somalia like your aunty. But the truth can be dangerous – and when you and your little sister are left alone, you find yourself facing life-and-death choices at every turn.
Can you escape a terrorist organisation and find a safe place to call home? You’ll be asked to cross a desert on foot, hide below deck in a leaky boat, and put your life in the hands of people smugglers.
At every turn, the choice is yours. How far will you go for freedom?
Emily Conolan is a writer and teacher, who is also known for her humanitarian work. For her role in establishing a volunteer support network for asylum seekers in Tasmania, she has been awarded Tasmanian of the Year, Hobart Citizen of the Year, and the Tasmanian Human Rights Award. The stories of courage and resilience she has heard in the course of her work with refugees, combined with tales from her own family history, inspired her to write the Freedom Finders series. Emily has never escaped from terrorists or risked her life on a leaky boat, but she has been inside immigration detention and does own a pen with a secret compartment inside.
The Freedom Finders is a new series of books, that use the Choose Your Own Adventure, or for this series, Choose Your Own Destiny. Two are coming out in April this year, Break Your Chains, set in 1825, where you’re an Irish girl trying to get from London to Australia, and the second, which I was sent to review by the publisher, Touch The Sky, set in 2011, where you are a Somalian boy escaping Mogadishu for Australia.
In Touch The Sky, you are the main character, as you and your sister, Jamilah are forced to run from a group called al-Shabaab that is after your aunt, and when they can’t find her, they come for you. The choices you make as you read will determine the outcome, and the pace at which your story ends, and where. As a Choose Your Own Destiny book, you are given the chance to try again, and there are fact sheets at the back relating to refugees, people smuggling, and the struggles and complexities faced by those who go through this process. It is an experience, an interactive story that evokes a range of emotions: fear, horror, empathy and a desire to get through every adversity and barrier that is thrown your way. In reading it, I tested out a few different outcomes, and went back and forth during the book to discover what would happen if I picked a certain option over another – and not every option led to a desirable outcome. Though some took me to the same place twice, choosing a different outcome changed everything, and I could be sent back to the last decision I made to try again.
Because you as the reader are making the choices, it is written in second person, which is effective for this kind of interactive book, a format I haven’t seen for a while, and that can be quite fun, or in this case, educational as well, teaching readers about what refugees go through and how they are treated, and what they sometimes have to do just to survive their world. It is moving, and the journey is not easy, nor are the choices that you as the reader have to make: they are often life and death and filled with uncertainty. But which of these will get you to freedom and reunite you with your family?
Having not read a book in this format for a very long time, and also, not having read many as a child, I found this to be an interesting exercise in engaging the reader. It definitely kept me just as hooked and intrigued as if it had just been a novel telling the story. By involving the reader in this kind of story, it evokes empathy within them and helps them gain an understanding beyond what is presented by other sources. It is about choices; freedom and the lengths people will go to reveal the truth to people who don’t understand or are trying to understand – and the risks taken to get dangerous information to the right people. I am hoping to read the other book that is to be published at the same time, Break Your Chains, to see what happens there.
This is a great book for anyone aged nine and older, to gain an understanding of what really happens, and how it happens, and why these people are driven to such desperate measures. It can begin a conversation and be used as an educational tool to teach school students about refugees and human rights, and possibly make people question their preconceptions and understanding of the refugee situation.