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Scot Gardner

One, two, three, breath.

When a juvenile detention exercise off the coast of the Kimberley goes wrong, sixteen-year-old Sparrow must swim to shore. There are sharks and crocs around him but the monsters he fears most live in the dark spaces in his mind.

He’s swimming away from his prison life and towards a desolate, rocky coastland and the hollow promise of freedom. He’ll eat or be eaten, kill or be killed.

With no voice, no family and the odds stacked against him, Sparrow has nothing left to lose. But to survive he’ll need something more potent than desperation, something more dangerous than a makeshift knife.



Sparrow doesn’t speak. He lives in the ceiling of the toilet rooms in a mall in Darwin. He doesn’t have many reasons to become anything more than a ‘ghost boy’ – one of those who wander the parks in hoodies, drinking, and threatening people for fun. But an Iranian barista gives him a sort-of-job and an old man teaches him to swim. From them, Sparrow learns that kindness pays.

When Sparrow is accused of doing something so against his nature it’s unthinkable, the injustice burns. I was screaming internally for him to tell his story, so he could be free. But he doesn’t. His story starts for us after a failed ‘bootcamp’ trip with juvie leaves him stranded, alone in the crocand snake-infested beaches of the Top End. Sparrow’s chapters switch between slowly revealing his path to juvie (in the past) and mapping his survival (in the present-day).

Scot Gardner’s descriptions of both the life of a homeless child, so close to a life behind bars, and the wilderness of the Kimberley meant I read most of this book with my heart alternating between sinking and then leaping into my throat with terror with each new chapter. (Even a casual mention of anything log-esque turned into a giant man-eating crocodile in my mind!) As with all Gardner’s books, there’s a strong theme of hope running throughout, so no matter how bad things look for the resourceful Sparrow, he never quite lets the light go completely out. Recommended for ages 12+.

Dani Solomon is a children’s and YA specialist at Readings Kids.

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