This was an awesome book. I don't think I have ever read a book set in South Africa before. I have read various books set in southern Africa, but never South Africa. This book deals with apartheid and the efforts to break apartheid's grip on the nation. Joshua, our 12 year old hero, is unwittingly mixed up in the thick of things--he discovers his brother is part of the movement, as well as discovering an injured freedom fighter in a garden shed.
This book does a great job of setting the scene and even the mind process of a young boy in that situation. He is still young enough not to have noticed that things should be different, but is mature enough that when it is pointed out he sees it instantly. He is secure enough in his current situation to not want to rock the boat to attempt to gain greater freedom. Things are okay, so why risk everything, including your life on a mere possibility? Yet there is something within him that sees the potential and realizes the worthiness of the fight--something that spurs him onward to do his own small part.
I think this is an important book for middle school/teen readers. From our secure and free lives in America, it can be hard to understand the decisions young people around the world are forced to make each day. This book tries to put us in their place. To make us realize the privilege we have simply by being born in America. America is not a utopia and I understand the desperate, horrible lives some Americans have--my mom is a drug and alcohol counselor in an economically depressed area--I do know. Yet even their lives are better than being in a similar situation in some other countries. We are lucky. Our country has had and still has its moments of darkness that have to be overcome and forgiven, but I think we are still a nation of more hope than many underdeveloped nations.
I just read this article about Saudi women and it boggles my mind that such a prosperous nation could have such human rights violations against women in this day and age. Yeonmi Park's video about escaping brutality in North Korea.
Letting our teens know that the world can be a harsh place encourages compassion and empathy from them. It helps them acknowledge their privilege and really think about the choices they would make in similar situations--choices that seem completely incomprehensible to them, but suddenly begin to make more sense when you read more about the situation.
This book lets teens feel the conflict Joshua felt in making choices, the pulls and ties he had to navigate as he began to understand the greater world around him and chose what side he was going to be on in anti-apartheid struggle. Should he stay safe and miss the chance to change the world for the better? Or should he risk everything, including his life, to make the world more tolerable? It is well written, fairly fast read that encourages teens to think about human rights and difficult decisions.
And for all that (and the beautiful cover!), I love this book!