'The best books, reviewed with insight and charm, but without compromise.'
- author Jackie French

Thursday 19 October 2023

Review: Two Sparrowhawks In A Lonely Sky

This Young Adult book ticks all the boxes for a family reunion story crossed with epic adventure, all wrapped up in a generous serving of historical fiction.

Author Rebecca Lim has fictionalised historical events in China, namely 1958 – 1960’s Great Leap Forward campaign, to create a novel that is both clever and engaging. 

Economic disaster, widespread famine and millions of deaths don’t immediately scream ‘this will be a fabulous book’ but in Lim’s capable hands, they become one. 

Non-gratuitous bloodshed and violence co-exist with the kind deeds of strangers, which are intentionally smattered throughout the narrative. 

In her notes, the author reveals that she deliberately sought to include small, unsung acts of bravery to highlight the impact that every individual human being can have on the world around them.

We meet 13-year-old Fu and his 11-year-old sister Pei in the fields of rural China during famine times, where they and their mother work their fingers to the bone to ward off starvation. And yet, with further political upheaval and communism closing in, their hard lives are about to become exponentially harder.

When their mother dies of starvation, the village chief decrees that young Pei will be married off, and her older brother sold into a life of hard field labour. To avoid this fate, the two must hurriedly undertake a long and perilous journey to the other side of the world. Armed with only a photograph, an old menu in a language that they do not understand and their mother’s deathbed wish that they not be separated, they set off. 

Told in three parts, we follow Fu and Pei as they escape rural village life and certain doom, thanks to a series of strangers who reach out to the youngsters and keep them on course. Their refugee journey takes them over land and sea, via Hong Kong, to a large and difficult country to enter, where their father is living. Will the border force in Australia acknowledge the children and their situation, allowing them to be reunited as a family?

Strong attention to detail is a hallmark of this book. From helpful illustrations to assist the reader place characters, to passages describing ludicrous government directives (clanging precious pots and pans together, to ward off field pests such as rats and mosquitoes), to the crowded and challenging life on-board a ship bound for new beginnings, to treasures secretly sewn into the fabric of their clothes - an incredible amount of research has been invested and imbued into the narrative.

This story delves deeply into what it is to be the ‘other’ and raises many questions for exploration – some that are answered through its pages and others that linger for a long time afterwards.

Title: Two Sparrowhawks In A Lonely Sky
Author: Rebecca Lim
Publisher: Allen & Unwin, $17.99
Publication Date: 29 August 2023
Format: Paperback
ISBN: 9781761180224
For ages: 11 - 14
Type: Historical Fiction Young Adult Fiction