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Refuge by Libby Gleeson

Refuge by Libby GleesonUnited States – $68.68 (Amazon.com) – price not recommended
Canada – $25.01 (Alibris)
United Kingdom – GBP 15.00 (Amazon.co.uk)
Australia – RRP $11.95, online $30.11 (Alibris)

Refuge, by Libby Gleeson, was one of many books written about the plight of the East Timorese before their independence in 2002. However, published in 1998, Refuge was one of the only young adults’ books written about the subject.

The book details Andrew and his sister Anna, a student activist. The story starts with Anna complaining about university fees, however as relationships change, passions change and she quickly adapts to her new boyfriend Marcus’s passion, East Timor. The Australian Immigration Department is ‘deciding’ whether a number of East Timorese should be allowed to stay in Australia or sent to Portugal, the former colonial administrator of the small island near Indonesia. Andrew is pulled into hiding one asylum seeker, Rosa, in their spare room without his parents’ permission.

Andrew also battles his own feelings throughout the book. He is 14 and shows a somewhat juvenile (as in, below what he is capable of) approach to developing a relationship for his sweetheart Kim. However, the two tales entwine as ‘babysitting’ Rosa proves a problem for Andrew’s scheduling skills with Kim.

The story is told from Andrew’s perspective in the present tense, keeping to the third person (for example, ‘After they leave he goes downstairs…’), a technique not commonly used in fiction books. However, this approach to writing occasionally hinders the flow of the book, which would otherwise be uninterrupted. I feel that using the past tense (‘After they left he went downstairs’) would have been more useful to Gleeson and it would be interesting to discover why the present tense was used.

Gleeson takes great care detailing the East Timorese conflict, using Rosa as the character to convey emotion. Using a character who has experienced the conflict is much more effective than using an outsider’s report in my opinion, and the author has mastered this art to radiate meaning from the book.

More recently, authors like Morris Gleitzman have written about refugees – he with his books Boy Overboard and Girl Underground, telling the story of Jamal and Bibi, two Afghan asylum seekers who were denied entry to Australia. The reader is left shocked, that after reflecting on the experiences the two had faced, the Australian government denied them entry.

Back on the subject, Gleeson has demonstrated a magnificent skill of literature in Refuge, however I would have liked the book to be longer. Because of this unfortunate aspect, my rating is:

3.7

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December 31, 2007 Posted by | Books, Young adult fiction | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment