NUTSHELL: White guy doesn’t fail horribly at writing about an African teenager. In fact, the story’s pretty awesome. I’ll call it a 9.
Another reread, eh? Good books get rereads — but only one review. Major changes in opinion mean edits to the review page.
Now that we’ve got the policy BS out of the way… The book itself is told from the POV of Chanda, a girl of sixteen living in sub-Saharan Africa, who crashes headlong into the reality of the HIV/AIDS crisis. AIDS carries a heavy stigma where she lives, so much so that her friend Esther’s parents were said to have died of cancer and tuberculosis. Esther herself is putting herself in harm’s way, but Chanda’s got too many problems of her own to really do anything about Esther; Chanda’s baby brother has died at the beginning of the novel, her stepfather walks out with another woman, and her mother is always sick. Before too long, it becomes obvious that both of Chanda’s parents have full-blown AIDS. When her stepfather dies and her mother vanishes, Chanda has to hold her family together.
Golly, that’s cheerful. The world isn’t sunshine and roses. Sometimes, you need to read a book that begins with a funeral.
So, does Chanda have AIDS? What about her siblings? What about Esther? I’m not telling. — Hear me out! Not knowing the answers to those questions creates so much of the tension in the story that you’re truly spoiled if I tell you. I had forgotten the answers myself, going into this second read, and I’m happy about that. Trust me when I tell you this is well worth picking up on Amazon or borrowing from your local library.
p.s. There’s a sequel! Chanda’s Wars came out nearly a year ago. I plan to put it on hold for my next library run.