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Forced into hiding after years of living under the threat of arrest, 14-year-old Faris and his grandmother find themselves on a refugee boat bound for Australia, where they hope to be reunited with Faris’s father. On route to Australia, the boat capsizes and Faris fears they will all be drowned. It comes as a surprise, then, when he wakes up in what appears, at first, to be the Australia of his dreams, but instead turns out to be an island called Refuge. Only gradually does Faris realise that there is something amiss in this island paradise and its strange group of resident children who, Faris discovers, come not only from different lands but also from different times in history.
Refuge is a beautifully written story examining the trauma of forced migration and the resilience needed to search for sanctuary elsewhere. With light but effective use of fantasy, French manages to weave a believable and engaging story of dislocation, relocation, forgiveness and hope. Without underplaying the horror of their individual experiences, French presents each character’s story gently and with heartfelt compassion. In so doing, she manages to reconsider Australia’s migration history, and in particular migration by means of boat travel, in a way that is at once original, confronting, moving and compelling.