Omed had the Buddha’s eyes and a tongue that refused words. His was the silence of caves; the false peace that descends when a mortar shell rips apart a building. His was the stillness of bald mountains and long beards and the paths cleared by bullets; the quiet of a long-bladed knife.
Did all this begin with Omed? Or did it start with me at fifteen, shouting for answers; words running sour in my mouth, bleeding to whispers in my throat, evaporating in numbed ears. Those ears: my dad, my invisible friends, teachers that either didn’t care or cared too much.
Omed, a boy, flees Afghanistan after a run in with the Taliban. He leaves behind his family and all he knows. His agonising and protracted journey leads him to Australia. There he is supposed to find peace and prosperity. Hector is an Australian boy, locked into silence by trauma. He’s gradually withdrawing from all he has known. Their lives intersect in a candle factory in the suburbs. It is a place of numbing boredom, but also a place of secrets. Dangerous secrets. Hector and Omed are linked by their stories, by their experience and by the secrets they uncover.
Hector and Omed are from very different worlds. Both are silent, although it’s not immediately obvious why that is. Candles are supposed to light up the darkness, but illumination leaves shadows, even when two candles combine. There are dark corners in the worlds these boys encounter, separately and together. Meeting each other is a turning point, although neither could have predicted the direction. Grant takes the reader into the enduring horror of Afghanistan’s wars and shows the complexity of the challenges, the realities for a people so long the focus of aggression and hate. The metaphor of a bridge linking the seemingly unlinkable features strongly. He also shines a light on the desperation that impels refugees to seek homes elsewhere, and the barriers that make the journey so much harder than it should have to be. Hector’s rites of passage journey contrasts with Omed’s, but shows the power of empathy and shared experiences. Recommended for mid-secondary readers.
review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author