Jamila has recently moved from Iraq to Melbourne, and life isn’t anything like it used to be. Now there is safety, and no bombs; but there are also no friends, no familiarity, and no Baba, Jamila’s father. Baba is still back in Iraq, in hiding, waiting to come to his family, uncontactable.
Jamila wants to make friends at school, but it’s hard. Kids are already settled into their groups, and when she reaches out it never seems to work. She desperately misses her best friend, Mina, and the beautiful country she loved. When she discovers the school choir is holding tryouts, she jumps at the chance–to prove to everybody that she’s somebody beyond the new girl, and to remind herself how good it has always felt to sing. But with her classmates not always being particularly encouraging, apart from Eva, the even-newer-girl, and Jamila’s mother–once a brave, lit-up woman but now always tired and worried about her family back home–constantly calling Jamila out of class to help translate appointments or shopping trips, can she find the song inside her?
Jamila is a wonderful character and I really loved Songbird. The language is straightforward which would make it easy for older hesitant readers, but that doesn’t stop it from being enjoyable and really engaging to read. It was one of those books I took around with me in case I could get five minutes to read another chapter and find out what happened next to Jamila. The plotline sounds like a bit of a bummer–warzones! new schools! school kids being mean!–but it’s honestly not like that. It’s a beautiful, hopeful story about digging deep and helping those around you and listening to what’s wrong and all kinds of good things, but it never feels like you’re being shouted at to realise all these things. Really, it’s just a super-great read. But if you’re a big crybaby like me, bring tissues for the finale. You’ll need them.