Out of Shadows by Jason Wallace
|Out of Shadows by Jason Wallace|
|Reviewer: Jill Murphy|
|Summary: Gorgeous coming-of-age novel set in Zimbabwe in a time of political upheaval. Both compelling and thought-provoking, it'll stay with them long after they've finished reading.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 304||Date: January 2010|
|External links: Author's website|
Robert Jacklin arrives at his new boarding school as a very reluctant pupil. He's a reluctant African, too - his family has just moved to Zimbabwe after his father has been given a diplomatic placing there. More than anything else, Robert wants to return to England.
It's 1983, and the Second Chimurenga - or Rhodesian Bush War, depending on your point of view - is over. Robert Mugabe has just taken power and Robert's father is optimistic about the fledgling country now colonialism is at an end. His schoolmates, however, have an entirely different point of view. Initially friendly with one of the few black boys at the school and a social misfit, Robert soon discovers the horrors of bullying and the relentless power of peer pressure. From there, his school career begins a sharp decline as, in desperate self-protection and a need to belong, he finds himself outwardly aligned with attitudes and behaviours he knows are wrong.
I loved Out of Shadows. It's an unusually uncompromising book for children, ducking none of the difficult issues it looks at. Perhaps as an adult reading, I found it desperately sad right from the beginning because I'm only too aware of the tragedy that has unfolded in Zimbabwe, which has gone from the fabled bread basket of Africa to one of the poorest, most violent nations on Earth. Not all children will fully understand this, but those who do will also be presented with a real moral ambiguity - shocking though the attitudes towards "kaffirs" of some of Robert's schoolfriends are, subsequent events have shown us that Mugabe was no saviour.
It's beautifully written and richly evocative. Robert's loneliness is palpable. The sense of doom and danger are all-pervading and the tension of it all gives you a gnawing feeling in the pit of your stomach. And yet it's not entirely without hope. The characters are all fully-rounded and you can feel sympathy with them all, even Ivan, who is the book's axis of conflict. There are some wonderful cameos too - I particularly enjoyed Weekend, the school's telephone operator, who eventually shows us the true meaning of human kindness.
Highly, highly recommended.
Older children could also look at The Voluptuous Delights of Peanut Butter and Jam by Lauren Liebenberg, set in war-torn Rhodesia, before it became Zimbabwe.
You can read more book reviews or buy Out of Shadows by Jason Wallace at Amazon.co.uk
You can read more book reviews or buy Out of Shadows by Jason Wallace at Amazon.com.
Out of Shadows by Jason Wallace is in the Carnegie Medal 2011.
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