Refugee Week (16-24 June) is when cities from the East Midlands triangle get together and offer out a welcoming hand to those who have sought sanctuary in this country. It's a time when we celebrate the diversity of our local communities rather than pander to the stereotypes in the tabloids. You can find out what's going on by picking up a copy of Beyond Borders, a volunteer-led paper that has been running for three years. We've decided to mark the week by reviewing Secret Gardens by David Belbin, which gives a much-needed human face to the story of asylum. The clip above was taken at the book launch. (Books Ed)
David Belbin’s fortieth book is as sharp and contemporary as the other thirty-nine. The story revolves around Aazim, a fifteen-year-old asylum seeker in Nottingham. When Immigration forcibly repatriates his family, Aazim goes on the run. Luckily his father has an allotment and Aazim hides out in its shed, or ‘bothy’. This is Aazim’s secret garden, and he is the secret. Well, it’s shelter with a steady supply of fruit, veg, even the odd squirrel kebab. Lonely Aazim is drawn to another vulnerable youngster, Nadimah, a child illegally trafficked to the UK as a domestic slave. He helps her escape this bondage and soon her ‘minder’ is hot on their trail.
With little money and no friends they flee the city and so begins their desperate journey around the East Midlands in search of work. These two young people are victims, but to the authorities they are offenders. They live in never-ending fear of capture by the police, or worse, the gang masters and traffickers.
Secret Gardens is a fast thriller written for reluctant readers. This means that it deals with complex adult themes but in language accessible to younger reading ages. Don’t worry, this book can be enjoyed at any age, reading or otherwise. It is taut, engaging and doesn’t shy away from one of the most sensitive issues of modern times: immigration. The style is concise, gritty and always believable. Furthermore, this is very much a Nottingham book, and the details of Hungerhill allotments (the oldest in the world) will delight locals with a green thumb.
Talking of digits, it’s two thumbs up for this book.
Secret Gardens by David Belbin is available from Five Leaves for £5.99