Azari’s 15-year-old sister Sharnaz was killed by male family members after refusing to marry a man four times her own age in order to pay off her father’s debts. When it became clear that Azari would replace her as the bride or in turn be murdered, she and her mother fled their country to save their lives. They found themselves in Ireland and were placed in Direct Provision, intended as a short term supportive initial placement in a refugee centre but the reality was a far cry from compassion or comfort. Squalor, overcrowding, poor food and racist threats from school and the local community were the nub of their experiences. Azari’s mother took to her bed but Azari found consolation in the running she had loved and excelled at in her home country. Since Azari’s mother refuses to speak to men, it is Azari who must tackle the interviews, forms and regulations required by the authorities dealing with their request for international aid. The story is particularly powerful since Azari is the narrator and the reader therefore sees the privations and difficulties first hand.
Azari begins to make friends – Robert, the white Irish boy who runs with her, Emer who invites her to a book club at school and Fiza Farooq who teaches her to read English. Each of these friendships opens a door for her and allows her to make progress in her quest to become a part of this strange and often hostile country in which she finds herself. She must also overcome her mother’s fears about losing her cultural and national identity by not adhering to the old ways. Whilst things begin to improve for Azari, the mood of some of the residents of the nearby town tenses and darkens, culminating in an arson attack on the Centre. The residents are split up and sent to various bed and breakfast establishments, more comfortable and with the privacy they had never had at the Centre but with a degree of loneliness and isolation from their new friends.
When the move to a new centre comes, it is yet another new beginning for Azari and her mother. The difference this time is that they have hope – new friends and new skills to aid them in their search for integration. Azari’s optimism is clear when she echoes Robert’s assertion that she is capable of going, ‘To the moon and back.’ However, Mitchell makes clear in her explanation of Direct Provision at the end of the book that the situation for refugees is too often too difficult to bear, with stays in centres ranging from 2 to 12 years. The sobering fact is that in 2021 more than 7,000 people lived in Direct Provision in Ireland and over 2,000 of those were children. The story of Azari and her mother, graphically presented as it is here, makes clear the plight of these people.