Book review: Little Exiles

BOOK: Little Exiles
AUTHOR: Robert Dinsdale
PUBLISHER: HarperCollins Publishers Aust
RRP: $29.99


LITTLE Exiles is an emotionally intuitive and moving story about a young boy who refuses to abandon his determination to return home and reclaim his past and his lost family.

Jon Heather is nine when his mother, unable to cope after her husband fails to return home from the Second World War, entrusts Jon to the care of the Chapeltown Boys' Home of the Children's Crusade.

He expects her to return for him in two months, but several weeks later, he finds himself on a ship bound for Australia, ostensibly so that he and his companions will be given the chance of a better life in the colonies.

The harsh reality of life on this isolated children's mission in the Australian bush is reflected in the hard work, strict discipline and stark conditions endured by the boys and girls who reside there.

The physical and sexual exploitation of many of these "inmates" is only hinted at in this compelling novel.

Jon and his younger companion, George, find themselves relying on the protection of the older and worldlier Peter when they embark from the boys' home in Leeds on their voyage to Australia.

As the boys grow up and try to come to terms with their circumstances, their choices are not always understandable or predictable.

However, Jon is the one who is unwavering in his resolve to return to England and find his family. Will his quest be fulfilled and, if so, what will he be able to salvage of his lost past?

This fictionalised account of the forced migration of thousands of British children, is, at times, gruelling and poignant storytelling and is not for the faint hearted.

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