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You will never be alone, Lydia. I will always be there for you. Find your strength from me. Be that person we talked about who can climb the tallest tree and touch the moon.

Torn Pages by Sally Grindley

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Category: Confident Readers
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Jill Murphy
Reviewed by Jill Murphy
Summary: A lovely, down-to-earth story about a family of AIDS orphans in Africa. It's moving and enlightening, but comes with the trademark Grindley common sense. There's no one better at educating without frightening, and telling a good story to boot.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 224 Date: February 2009
Publisher: Bloomsbury
ISBN: 0747595054

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There's a tear in your eye already, isn't there? Lydia's parents have both died of AIDS, leaving her responsible for her little brother and sister. But Lydia herself is barely an adolescent, so how on earth will she cope? You'd be surprised. Lydia cooks and cleans, she comforts her grieving siblings and she helps them with their schoolwork. She finds ingenious ways to solve problems. Within just a few pages, your heart is bursting with admiration for this young girl who is putting aside her own sorrow so that she can keep her family together.

And everything's stacked against her - a grandmother who takes what little money her mother left and refuses to believe that it was her father's adultery that brought AIDS into the family; suspicion from the other villagers who fear little Kes might infect them; a garden that just won't be rid of weeds; amorous men out for potentially fatal "fun".

And now you are thinking that this surely isn't the book for your primary school child, aren't you? How dark and depressing and, well, inappropriate. But that's where you'd be wrong. Torn Pages isn't a sad book. It's a moving book, of course - who could fail to be moved by Africa's growing population of AIDS orphans? - but it's also life-affirming and utterly uplifting. This is Sally Grindley's particular talent. She approaches difficult subjects with complete honesty but without ever frightening the horses. Here, she creates a central character in Lydia who excites admiration before pity, and who is immeasurably sustained by a memory book written for her by her mother, showing that families can help one another even when separated as finally as they could possibly be.

This is the trick, really, isn't it? You don't ever paint a sad picture full of problems for a child unless you can also paint a picture of how the problems are surmountable, and this is what Grindley does. Of course, Lydia's most fundamental problem cannot be solved - nothing she does will bring back her mother - but those in day-to-day life can be faced and improved on, and each improvement brings Lydia one step closer to climbing that tall tree and touching the moon. Lovely stuff.

My thanks to the nice people at Bloomsbury for sending the book.

Younger readers might like the description of life in African for children in Akimbo and the Snakes by Alexander McCall Smith. For social issues affecting children in other countries, Lost Riders by Elizabeth Laird about camel jockeys in the UAE is an enlightening read.

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Buy Torn Pages by Sally Grindley at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Torn Pages by Sally Grindley at


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