The Freedom Finders Series: Touch the Sun (Book #2) by Emily Conolan

touch the sky.jpgTitle: The Freedom Finders Series: Touch the Sun (Book #2)

Author: Emily Conolan

Genre: Young Adult Fiction

Publisher: Allen and Unwin

Published: 28th March 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 336

Price: $16.99

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?

Author bio:

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.

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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.

AWW-2018-badge-roseIn 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.

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Skin in the Game: The Pleasure and Pain of Telling True Stories by Sonya Voumard

Skin-in-the-Game_cover-for-publicity-600x913.jpgTitle: Skin in the Game: The Pleasure and Pain of Telling True Stories

Author: Sonya Voumard

Genre: Non-fiction/Essays

Publisher: Transit Lounge

Published: 1st March 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 224

Price: $27.99

Synopsis: Stella Prize long-listed author Sonya Voumard’s Skin in the Game is original, incisive and hugely entertaining.  The daughter of a European refugee mother and a journalist father, Voumard recounts with aplomb her passionate but questioning relationship with journalism and the nature of the interview. There’s a disastrous 1980 university encounter with Helen Garner which forms the seed for her fascination with the dynamics of the interview and culminates in her connecting again with Garner more than three decades later to work out what went so wrong. There are the insights of a career played out against the changing nature of journalism including the author’s time as a Canberra correspondent. And there are revealing and tender portraits of Kings Cross, of growing up in suburban Melbourne, her father’s love of journalism, and a family journey to the Bonegilla Migrant Reception Centre where her mother’s Australian life began.

Throughout it all Voumard is a sharpshooter, never afraid to hold a mirror up to her own life and practices as a journalist, to dig deep into the ethics of journalism and the use of power, and to sensitively explore the intertwined nature of life and work and personal relationships. The writing is at turns sharp, funny, direct, strong and affectionate.

‘I’ve immense admiration for how Sonya Voumard so deftly wields a writer’s scalpel, both on her subjects and herself. Together, these dispatches provide a fascinating insider’s account of Australian journalism and a forensic look into the myriad pitfalls involved in telling people’s stories.’ Benjamin Law, author of The Family Law and Gaysia

Stella Longlisted in 2017 for The Media and the Massacre: Port Arthur 1996-2016 (2016).

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AWW-2018-badge-roseIn a series of essays, Sonya Voumard explores the dynamics of journalism in the eighties and nineties, and interview techniques that work, and ones that don’t, the challenges of keeping records and subjects denying what has been said, even if it has been recorded, and the role journalism played in politics and the way it has changed since her days in the press gallery. In the midst of this, are family stories of running from war and oppression, as refugees and what it was like being the children of a refugee mother, and the interactions they had in their social circles – some with similarities, some completely individual, and the quest for family identity and sense of self. Within these essays, Voumard has made cautious and intriguing links to each story, so that they can be read in order or dipped in and out of.

Starting with her experiences as a child, Voumard tells of her family history – her journalist father, an Australian, and refugee mother from Estonia, who fled war-torn Europe with her mother and step-father in the years after the war – a story that is explored in depth in one of the final essays, on a pilgrimage to Estonia, where hints of Russian occupation still stand, in a country that has only been independent for two decades, and where attitudes seen as immoral or abhorrent, or maybe just ignorant in Australia, are acceptable there. Voumard’s journey to becoming a journalist began young, and she recounts her early days at university, studying journalism and having to write a political biography. Aiming high, she conducts her first interview with Helen Garner – a disastrous encounter that will take two decades to repair and be given a chance to write another profile.

As a journalist, she has travelled throughout Australia, part of the political gallery, and taking part in cadetships where the boy’s club was present around her, with an amusing anecdote about her standing up to them, leaving them in shock at what she said. She does not shy away from the challenges of journalism. In many places, she discusses the challenges of the interview – that even when something has been recorded and agreed to be recorded during an interview, and an ethics code followed, stories can still be pulled. She speaks of the frustration this can bring and the need to respect a subject’s wishes as well.

The experiences and challenges she speaks of in the journalistic world show the behind the scenes challenges that journalists faced and still face, as the world of journalism changed, and the pace quickened, and morphed into a 24/7 news cycle that never stops – and how it became a struggle to keep up, to keep editors happy, the public informed and maintain a sense of ethics and truth within the stories she wrote and reported on – the pleasure was in seeking and gaining these stories, the pain in how to deliver them truthfully and morally, but within tightening deadlines that might not always have allowed for checking and re-checking. She speaks of the politicians she encountered, and the ones she admired, and didn’t admire or like – she’s not shy about naming them, or being critical, but still fair, especially when it came to Julia Gillard and her challenges.

Reading about the challenges of journalism from the inside, and the ups and downs of telling stories for people or helping them tell their story gives an understanding of what is expected in the media, and that the demands put onto journalists doesn’t always come through when the public face is presented, or the story is published. Having studied communications and writing, the interview stories were amusing and interesting to me.

An intriguing read about the ethics and inner workings of journalism, and the challenges these present, coupled with family stories that all link together to tell Sonya’s story.

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Running on the Roof of the World by Jess Butterworth

running on the roof of the world.jpg

Title: Running On The Roof Of The World

Author: Jess Butterworth

Genre: Children’s Fiction

Publisher: Hachette/Orion Children’s Books

Published: 13th June 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 280

Price: $15.99

Synopsis: Join 12-year-old Tash and her best friend Sam in a story of adventure, survival and hope, set in the vivid Himalayan landscape of Tibet and India. Filled with friendship, love and courage, this young girl’s thrilling journey to save her parents is an ideal read for children aged 9-12.

There are two words that are banned in Tibet. Two words that can get you locked in prison without a second thought. I watch the soldiers tramping away and call the words after them. ‘Dalai Lama.’

Tash has to follow many rules to survive in Tibet, a country occupied by Chinese soldiers. But when a man sets himself on fire in protest and soldiers seize Tash’s parents, she and her best friend Sam must break the rules. They are determined to escape Tibet – and seek the help of the Dalai Lama himself in India.

And so, with a backpack of Tash’s father’s mysterious papers and two trusty yaks by their side, their extraordinary journey across the mountains begins.

~*~

Set in modern day Tibet, still under the harsh regime occupation of Communist China, Tash (Tashi-la) and Sam (Samdup) are on their way home from school when they witness the self-immolation of a Buddhist monk protesting the ongoing Chinese occupation that began 1949. In quick succession, their lives are turned upside down as Tash’s parents are taken away by the Wujing, forcing Tash and Sam to run from their village, beginning a trek across the Himalayas with their yaks, Bones and Eve, in search of the Dalai Lama and safety in India. Together, the two friends keep the secret backpack safe, and hide from the soldiers who patrol the borders to make sure nobody escapes. Sam and Tash’s friendship is tested, as they go in search of the Dalai Lama and deliver a message for the secret resistance that Tash’s father is part of. Together, they are as strong as the yaks that accompany them. If they separate, not only their friendship will falter.

Running on the Roof of the World is a story about friendship, and about freedom. It shows the difficulties faced by those in oppressed nations, and what people are willing to do – risk their safety, and their lives – to bring atrocities to the world’s attention – but at an easy to understand level for children and teenagers, who are curious but maybe not ready for in depth or more complex discussion. It is aso a good introduction to Tibet and the Chinese occupation, and the Dalai Lama, and what the process of running from oppression can be like. Through the Tibetan characters, Jess Butterworth illustrates that not everyone can be trusted, and sometimes, those who you think are the least trust-worthy, can become your allies and help you at the end of your journey.

Tackling a complex issue in a simple way, Running on the Roof of the World gives a human face to refugees where it is much needed, and does so in an area of the world we don’t often hear much about in the news. The characters show that you do not have to accept the hand that you have been dealt, and there is always a way to forge a new path, and celebrates a friendship between a young boy and girl, which is refreshing to see, as well as seeing characters from another culture and nation in literature for children and is a step towards diversity in all fiction.

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Under The Same Sky by Mogjan Shamsalipoor and Milad Jafari with James Knight

under the same sky.jpg

 

 

Title: Under the Same Sky
Author: Mojgan Shamsalipoor and Milad Jafari with James Knight
Genre: Non-fiction, biography
Publisher: Hachette Australia
Published: 26th April 2017
Format: Paperback
Pages: 331
Price: $32.99
Synopsis: The powerful and incredibly moving story of Mojgan Shamsalipoor and Milad Jafari – two young Iranian asylum seekers who are showing that the power of love can conquer all obstacles.
After fleeing their homeland, Australian refugee policies threaten to tear this young couple apart. An unforgettable story of love, hope and a quest for freedom.
At seventeen, all Mojgan Shamsalipoor wanted was to be safe from physical and sexual abuse, go to school, and to eventually marry for love. In Iran, she was denied all of this.
Milad Jafari was a shy teenage boy who found his voice as a musician. But the rap music he loved was illegal in his country. All Milad’s father, a key maker, builder and shopkeeper, wanted was for his family to live free from the fear of arrest, imprisonment or execution. To do that they all had to flee Iran.
Mojgan and Milad met in Australia. But in the months between their separate sea voyages, the Australian government changed the way asylum seekers were treated. Though Milad is recognised as a refugee and will soon become a proud Australian citizen, Mojgan has been told she cannot stay here even though the threat of imprisonment and further abuse, or worse, means she can’t return to Iran.
UNDER THE SAME SKY, is a powerful insight into the human face of asylum seekers and the way history has shaped the lives of these two young people. It also shows the compassion alive in our suburbs. For Mojgan and Milad, their love keeps their hopes alive.

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Under the Same Sky is the story of Mojgan and Milad’s lives in Iran, and their escape as asylum seekers to Australia. In Iran, both led very different lives under a regime that restricted what women could do, and promoted one religion over all others, persecuting anyone who didn’t fall into line with what the government dictated to them. Eventually, both their families saw the need to flee: Milad’s together, and Mojgan with one of her older brothers, Hossein. With the government as it was, each had to pretend they were only headed to Indonesia for holidays, and that they would return to Iran. Doing it this way, they were able to leave, yet still had to find a way to Australia, where they hoped to find safety. In each chapter, Mojgan and Milad tell their story as their journeys progress, and in some ways, they had similar journeys, but in other ways, their experiences as asylum seekers and refugees differed.

After traumatic events that led to Mojgan and Hossein fleeing Iran for Australia – with the uncertainty of their fate and the fate of the family members they had had to leave behind, and months spent in detention, the two met at a Baha’i camp, and became good friends, and eventually, started dating. However, the government had decided on Mojgan and Hossein’s fate – they had not been granted visas and after months of living in community detention, and a relationship, and marriage between Mojgan and Milad, the brother and sister were sent back to detention, where they were again in limbo, awaiting decisions.

Throughout these turbulent times, Milad, his family and the friends and teachers Mojgan had met at Yeronga at school began fighting for her to be freed, and returned to a safe home with people who cared about her. This fight is included in the story, in some of the chapters told by James Knight, who gives a lot of background to the instability of Iran and the changing attitudes towards asylum seekers and refugees and their treatment. Mojgan’s experiences in detention affected her deeply –even though she wasn’t always harshly treated, the instances she was, and the guards who were rough with her stood out in her mind. Even the guards who tried to help her , who were nice, couldn’t fully erase these experiences.

At the time of the publication of the book and the writing of this review, a final decision is yet to be made and Mojgan and Hossein, though now living with Milad and his family, are still in limbo.

Mojgan and Milad’s story sheds light on an issue that is fraught with complexities and often simplified in the media – which does not always allow for in depth discussion. Mogjan, Milad and James all acknowledge throughout the complexities, especially in the constantly changing attitudes at the political level and in public opinion about refugees, illustrated by interviews with teachers who knew Mogjan and Milad, and quotes from papers about refugees and asylum seekers and references to speeches by the former Minister for Immigration, Scott Morrison. What these do is to establish the political backdrop of Australia, and in a way, contrast it against what Milad and Mojgan ran from – the stark contrast of a dictatorship like Iran, whose government demanded to know the whereabouts of Mogjan long after she left, and the freedom of Australia that they sought but that they were unsure they would ever gain. James Knight’s statements are supportive of those who helped Mogjan and Milad, and less supportive of the government of the time. Some come across as political because issues of asylum seekers and refugees can never be divorced from politics, but I feel like he fell short of outright condemnation and name-calling.

It was an interesting book to read, because it presented a side to the issue not often seen, and one that maybe, should be given more attention. Cases such as Mogjan and Milad’s, where they’ve fled danger and persecution, and simply want a safer life, are the ones we should be hearing about as well as any negative stories that come out. Reading it, I felt moved and shocked by what Mogjan had gone through in Iran and detention. It is only their experiences of fleeing and people smugglers, and becoming asylum seekers. It touches on the issue of how difficult it can be to leave a place like Iran for good. I recommend it for anyone interested in human rights and those wanting to know about the experience from the perspective of someone who has been there.