Book Review: The Bone Sparrow, One Half from the East

In the past few weeks I’ve been pretty slow about reading (I always get into a February slump!), but I have managed to finish reading two middle grade novels that I had been considering for class use. Below are my general thoughts about these books, and whether I’d recommend them for use in an ESL reading class!

(Click on the title for a Goodreads description!)

28217813One Half From the East by Nadia Hashimi

This book was a very interesting read on a topic I had never heard about – bacha posh. Essentially, in some parts of Afghanistan and Pakistan, if a family has all daughters and no sons, they turn a young daughter into a boy until she reaches puberty. This is the story of Obayda, who becomes Obayd because her father is injured and there are no male family members to help support her family. The novel explores all of Obayd’s newfound freedom now that she is a boy – she doesn’t have to do chores, she can run around at school, and she has much more independence than her sisters. However, there are definitely some pitfalls that she runs into, like what will life be like once she is turned back into a girl and her freedoms are taken away?

What ESL Students Might Enjoy: A lot of this story focuses on relationships within a family, which is usually an easy topic to connect to. Students may find some of Obayd’s frustration with her family easy to connect to. There is also a lot of exploration about what it means to be a boy and what it means to be a girl in relation to family responsibility in freedom.

Recommended for an ESL Reading Class?: Yes, definitely! Since the book is middle grade, it is a fairly easy, low-vocabulary read. Non-middle eastern students may struggle a little with some of the culture references, but those are easily explained. Overall, I think this is a great book to use in an ESL class!


29223495The Bone Sparrow by Zana Fraillon

This is a beautifully written, incredibly depressing story about a boy named Subhi who was born in an Australian refugee camp and has spent his entire life there. What I enjoyed the most was the small magical element of the book called the Night Sea – a mysterious sea that only Subhi can see that leaves him gifts every once in awhile. There is also a strong theme of story-telling that runs throughout the novel. Subhi makes friends with Jimmie, an Australian girl

What ESL Students Might Enjoy: The writing is fairly simple, and the story is very straightforward. There are a few places where Subhi is reading a story that takes place in the past, but this is denoted by a different font. Overall, the readability is fairly simple.

Recommended for an ESL Reading Class?: I’m not so sure about this one. The readability is nice, but the story is very, very depressing. In the past, my students have sometimes complained that there’s not enough action in a book and they get kind of bored. This book is kind of like that – it’s a lot of just daily life stuff in the refugee camp. There’s not really any action until the last 30 pages or so, so students might get a little bored.