Thursday, July 25, 2019

Detention by Tristan Bancks

I hardly know where to begin with this utterly splendid book. The story line still haunts me hours after I finished it. Reading this book yesterday consumed me. I started on my morning train, spent my day working as a library volunteer and finished the book on the train coming home. I was desperate to see how things turned out but, as with all the best books, I felt bereft once it ended. Not because the ending was sad (although there are still things to be resolved) but because the glorious experience of reading such a beautifully told and finely nuanced story was over.

Dan has a very difficult life. His home is in a run down caravan in a park filled with lost, lonely, poor and displaced people. Some are former criminals. Dan's mum is rarely home and Dad is struggling at school. He has been placed in a special class for reading. I found his description of the class so poignant and powerful:

"Miss Aston calls the class 'Reading Superstars' to try and make them feel like they're the Avengers ... Dan's embarrassed to be in a 'special class'. She can call him a superstar all she likes but he doesn't see illiteracy or dyslexia or whatever as a superpower."

Being in this class feels like detention every Thursday morning for the small group of students but for the second voice in this story detention truly is a reality. Sima and her family have been living in an Australian immigration detention facility on the mainland for over six months and this has come after their frightening escape from Afghanistan, long months in a camp in Indonesia, a frightening boat trip across the open ocean to Australia and over a year of being detained on Christmas Island. Today is the day Sima and others will attempt an escape. The detention centre is near Dan's school. The escape goes badly wrong, Sima is separated from her family and she finds herself on the run. The police are looking for Sima and Dan's school is put into lock down. Sima takes refuge in the boy's toilet. Tristan Bancks made me feel I was really there with Sima. I could smell the awful stench and feel her utter terror as she tries to prevent boys entering her cubicle.

Earlier in the day, Dan has found a dog that has been abused. He is desperate to help the dog but he has to spend the morning in class. He plans to run back to the dog as soon as this class is over but then the school alarm rings for the lock down. Dan becomes quite desperate to get away because he needs to get water to this dog. He convinces the teacher to let him go to the toilets. He hears a noise and finds Sima. Police are patrolling the school. Here is a true moral dilemma. Will Dan expose or hide Sima? Should he tell his teacher? Who is telling the truth about asylum seekers? Is it the authorities? Is it the media? Or should he believe Sima herself who explains the dangers if her family are sent back to Afghanistan.

The tension in this book is so palpable. The plot just races along and the individual voices of both characters demand to be heard. For me this is certainly a five star book. I should also mention the chapters are oragnised as alternate voices. This is a form I really enjoy and Tristan is able to give Ben and Sima distinct voices which resonate with honesty. The device of time as chapter headings also drives the story which begins at 5.28am as Sima prepares to escape through the detention centre fence. The next chapter is just 3 minutes later. Dan joins the story at 7.32am and his next chapter it 7.37am. By page 203 the time is just 12.01pm on the same day.

I suggest age 11+ for this book which means it can be an addition to a Primary School library and in fact I would like to say it should be an added to every Primary and High School library. I will make a bold prediction that Detention will be short listed for several awards in future months including the CBCA 2020 awards. Detention was published on 2nd July this year. Huge thanks to Beachside Bookshop for my Advanced Reader Copy.

You can listen to an interview with Tristan here. This is a brilliant way to gain insights into his writing process. Also take a look at Tristan's web site.

Megan Daley said this book is OUTSTANDING and I thoroughly agree. Click here to read her review: Tristan’s writing is gripping, insightful and compassionate.

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