Published by Hachette Australia, Orion on July 13, 2017
Genres: Young Adult, Magical Realism
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Kept by a ruthless gang, three children manage to escape from slavery. But freedom isn't just waiting on the outside.
Separated, scared and looking after a small child, Esra will do whatever she can to reunite with her friend Miran, who was captured by the police - the police who she mustn't trust.
Hiding in the shadows of the forest, Esra is found by a local boy, a boy with his own story. 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. Until they finally have the courage to speak their story. Until they finally have the courage to be free.
The Ones That Disappeared is the exploration of three children brought into child trafficking, who are working to pay off their ‘debt’ to the Snakeskin gang. It’s an incredibly disturbing account of poverty, emotional and physical abuse, alienation and the hope they are subjected to.
Being forced to work on marijuana plants in a basement, they are both chastised for making mistakes and praised heavily for doing good. Yet, they are told that they have no other choice, that they’re actually being looked after and groomed by the gang, which they should be grateful for. It’s easy to see how they started believing this after a while, seeing kids on the street die from poverty.
For the smallest of moments, I remember what it is to be safe and loved and never alone.
Even after their escape from their captors, the book doesn’t let up as Esra takes the younger Isa under her wing, as they traverse the harsh Australian bushland. They meet another boy called Skeet, a talkative, lively boy who has a pet toad in his pocket. He adds life and vibrance into the story, as he follows Esra and Isa on their adventures to reconnect with their friend Miran.
There’s also a hint of magical realism halfway through, where a Riverman comes to life after being constructed by the children. He resembles a feeling of hope for them and connects the children. I felt the magical realism part to be quite out of place, especially since the rest of the book is set in reality.
And all I can do is stare at this boy who can pull the happy from Isa and the smiles from my mouth, and who can steal songs from my memories and shoot them out his lips like they’re his very own.
It’s not a surprise that I found the book emotionally taxing to read, as it delves heavily into the emotional effects of child slavery on each character. I had to stop and put the book down every few chapters, because of how hard and heavy the content was, especially through Esra’s perspective. Hope, courage and survival underpins the bleak narrative as we follow these kids who are considered the ‘lucky’ ones who have escaped.
Although the book ends on a hopeful note, it leaves as lasting impression as we’re left to ponder the fates of actual child slaves after the author note.
The Ones That Disappeared is a bleak exploration of child trafficking and slavery that could be happening in our very own neighbourhoods today. While I found the book difficult to read, especially due to the topic, it’s written beautifully.
Rating: 3 out of 5
Thanks to Hachette Australia for sending me a review copy.
The Ones That Disappeared is out now in Australian bookstores for RRP$19.99.