The Premise: (from NetGalley) Kept by a ruthless gang, three children manage to escape from slavery. Together, they will create a man out of mud. A man who will come to life, and lead them through a dark labyrinth of tunnels, until they finally have the courage the step above ground. Come and find the ones that disappeared…
Thoughts: I am a big fan of Fraillon’s previous book, The Bone Sparrow, and the delicate but hard-hitting way in which it dealt with big issues like the refugee crisis and detention of children. The Ones That Disappeared takes on another challenging and topical subject in modern slavery and the terrible risks taken by people in search of a better life.
The early chapters show Esra, Miran and Isa trapped in a basement, forced to pay off the debt of their journey by looking after marijuana plants for Orlando, their terrifying ‘owner’. There’s a palpable sense of claustrophobia and fear, culminating in an accident and the children’s escape.
Obviously I was very pleased the children escaped (I hope it’s obvious, anyway). I did, however, feel like the story came part a bit once the trio escaped captivity. Miran is arrested and hospitalised, while Esra and Isa find shelter in a cave and befriend a local misfit. The narrative became a bit confusing here, with multiple PoVs, and it didn’t seem like much was really happening. I was expecting a more sustained use of the hard-hitting style of the novel’s opening, but the children’s arcs became a bit meandering once they escaped.
In Conclusion: a YA book that tackles such difficult issues is clearly something that should be read, and in that respect, The Ones That Disappeared is a vital read. There is a definite and quite odd shift in the tone and action early on which didn’t work for me, but this shouldn’t deter anyone else from reading it.