From School Library Journal
Grade 6-9–When 13-year-old Binti Phiri's coffin-making father dies, a grandmother she hardly knows says what no one in Malawi likes to admit: the man, like his wife, died of AIDS. Now orphaned, Binti and her siblings are sent to relatives far from home. A Cinderella-like existence with an uncle whose family ostracizes them and steals their money proves so intolerable that her older sister runs away. Binti, too, escapes and makes her way to her grandmother's village. There she discovers her Gogo surrounded by children, cousins and pretend cousins, all dealing with the effects of the epidemic. A local AIDS activist eventually finds Binti's brother, in jail, and her sister, working as a prostitute. Reunited, the young people open their own coffin shop. The author's travel in the area informs her work, but the message, though important, threatens to overwhelm the story. Binti is a well-developed character, but the others and the events of their lives seem to have been introduced in service to plot; they don't come alive the way the Afghans do in Ellis's "Breadwinner" trilogy (Groundwood) or the way the AIDS victims and their relatives do in Alan Stratton's Chanda's Secret
(Annick, 2004). Readers with an interest in faraway places won't mind, though; they will cheer as Binti, self-centered and self-important when life is good, learns through adversity and through the model of her grandmother to think and behave more generously. Teachers and librarians looking for fiction about sub-Saharan Africa will find this title a useful addition.–Kathleen Isaacs, Edmund Burke School, Washington, DC
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Gr. 5-8. Like Allan Stratton's Chanda's Secrets
[BKL Jl 04], but for a younger audience, this is a poignant story of a child caught up in the AIDS crisis in southern Africa. Binti, 13, lives in a city in Malawi, attends a private church school, and stars in a weekly radio show. Her mother is dead, and then her father dies. No one talks about why until her tough grandmother, Gogo, announces that they died of AIDS. Binti is taken in by cruel relatives, her sister becomes a prostitute, and her brother lands in prison, but they finally reunite with Gogo in a poor rural community. The plot is contrived, and Binti speaks like a Western child at times. But Ellis, who has written about children in crisis in Afghanistan, Israel, and Palestine, and visited Malawi, creates a vivid sense of the place and characters that are angry, kind, brave, and real. The facts about AIDS--the statistics, denial, discrimination, and ignorance--drive the story. Proceeds from book sales go to UNICEF. Hazel RochmanCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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