Genre: Middle Grade Mystery
Summary: Big changes are on the horizon for the people of Litongo. The elders of the small village have decided it would be best for everyone to move to Njia Panda, a larger and more progressive village. As to be expected there are grumbles of disagreement and fear, but for thirteen-year-old Shida there is nothing but excitement. Moving to a larger village means that Shida, a name that translates as “problem” in Swahili, can finally go to school and learn how to become a nurse. However, soon after they arrive in the new village strange things start happening – things like clothes going missing, cows disappearing and children getting sick. Everyone thinks the village is cursed and perhaps they should have stayed in Litongo. It is up to Shida and her cousin Grace to figure out what or who is causing all of the trouble and prove once and for all that moving was the right decision – for everyone.
The good: This book is so wonderful that I am not even sure how to adequately review it without gushing all over the place. I am a huge mystery fan, so I was really excited to read this one. Then, to my utter delight and surprise, I discovered that it isn’t just a mystery but also a fascinating look into a different culture with a strong female character to boot.
The setting is vivid and wonderfully imagined. I love that after reading this book I have a picture in my head of 1967 Tanzania, East Africa. Not only is the setting well executed but the character development of Shida as well as several of the supporting characters is so well done. One example is Shida’s mother who undergoes a dramatic transformation that is beautifully handled. After losing her husband thirteen years ago, Mama Shida is angry, disheveled and often called a witch by the other children in the village. Shida has to essentially carry the responsibility of keeping a house and taking care of her mother while also being a healer in the village, going to school, helping the local nurse and figuring out the mystery of the curse. Slowly we see Mama Shida shed her grief and open up to Shida about her dreams of being a healer. When Shida wants to give up because of losing a little girl to malaria it is Mama Shida who comforts her and encourages her to always stay true to herself. Mama Shida’s transformation does not feel forced or contrived; rather, it is natural and beautiful to witness.
There is so much in this story about the bravery, strength and ability of women. There is dissension in the village about girls going to school and doing anything other than getting married and having babies, but Shida and her cousin Grace prove that girls can and should be educated so they can pursue their dreams. Ah! Beautiful!
The verdict: Ok, top three reasons you should give this book to any middle grade girl you know:
- Shida is a wonderful example of someone who has a dream and works hard to get it, even though she may struggle and want to give up at times.
- This book is a fascinating and educational peek into African culture. The author actually lived in Africa for awhile and a lot of her experience informed this book. I loved the endnotes, pictures and glossary at the end of the book.
- It is a mystery! For kids! And it’s fun! Is it just me, or are books about Africa usually about heavier fare such as slavery and war? While I think those books have their place, it is refreshing to read something fun.
The rating: 9
Coming up next: Etiquette & Espionage by Gail Carriger