A review by Nalini Haynes
Format: Paperback, 183 pages
Publisher: OMNIBUS BOOKS (Scholastic)
Ages: allegedly 10–14; however, read review for my thoughts
Trigger warnings: violence, attempted suicide, starvation, deaths
Niko lives in Sarajevo with his family when the former Yugoslavia is torn apart by civil war. Niko and his best friend Nedim are from different people groups and different religions and yet they remain friends throughout this terrible conflict intended to set them against one another. Sarajevo is bombed. Soldiers steal Niko’s family’s UN food rations. Dogs on the streets are dangerous and food. This story is based on real life.
Webster’s voice is incredibly powerful as she tells this fictionalised account of real events in a childlike voice. Paper Planes is When Hitler Stole the Pink Rabbit for the generation that saw people jumping from the Twin Towers. This is both a blessing and a curse.
Paper Planes is brilliant and a must-read for adults. Although the protagonist is a child, like in Sonya Hartnett’s Of a Boy, this is not a story for children. Not unless you’ve had to explain war and trauma to a child. If your child has experienced events like those in Paper Planes then this book is a must, to be read with close supervision and support. If your child has a close friend or family member who is suffering as a result of living through events like those in Paper Planes then this book should also be read with close supervision and support.
However, I’d take great care to tailor this book to the child and the child’s maturity, not giving this to just any child aged 10 to 14.
A long time ago, I awoke to my son saying, ‘Pokemon isn’t on. Pokemon isn’t on, Mum.’
I groaned, thinking You woke me up to tell me Pokemon isn’t on? I can sleep in for a few minutes yet before I have to get you ready for school.
‘Mum. Pokemon isn’t on. You’re going to want to see this. AMERICA IS AT WAR.’
Within seconds I was up, wearing my glasses and sitting on the couch in my pajamas watching TV. A skyscraper had a hole in its side. People were falling from skyscrapers WHEN A CHILDREN’S TV PROGRAM SHOULD HAVE BEEN SHOWING.
I didn’t have a choice about whether or not to let my children see this awful event on television. That decision was made for me so my only choice was how to handle it. I figured it was better to let my children continue watching so they would know everything rather than worry about what they didn’t know. When it came time for school, I let my two children decide whether to go to school that day or not.
Before he made up his mind, my son wanted to know how this war would affect us.
‘I think we won’t be directly affected. We don’t know anyone who was killed. We don’t know anyone who will be fighting. The most we’ll be directly affected is that petrol prices will go up.’ I was mostly right.
My eight-year-old son mulled this over and decided to go to school. His primary school was, quite literally, over the back fence. I told him he could come home if he wanted. He went to school. Play that day was subdued but safe.
My sixteen-year-old daughter decided to take the day off school to watch the news as it unfolded. It was mostly repeats of the same terrifying events until the second tower came down and the third plane. She pulled out some grey Mi Tente paper and pastels to draw some flowers that we’d been given: pink carnations with white edges. We watched the news together while she drew. We talked.
Paper Planes is ‘only’ a novel but it is just as real as the events of that fateful day. Adult caregivers should make a deliberate, conscious decision about when their child is old enough to read this novel. Don’t let someone else make that decision for you.
Paper Planes is brilliant. The child’s voice makes this story more powerful. I highly recommend this novel for an adult audience. I want to give it 6 stars out of 5 but that makes no sense.
Rating: ★★★★★ 5/5