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The Fattening Hut Hardcover – September 22, 2003
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From School Library Journal
Grade 9 Up-As in Signs and Wonders (1999) and Just Imagine (2001, both Houghton), Collins once again deals with teens who are out of sync with their culture or surroundings. In this book, she deals with the weighty issue of female circumcision. At 14, Helen has been promised to Esenu, an "old man" in her opinion, 30 years of age. She needs to gain weight, for what man wants a skinny bride? All of the girls on this fictional island are expected to go into confinement and eat as much as they can. However, the isolation and loss of youthful freedom have taken away Helen's appetite. In addition, she is becoming aware that the fattening hut holds another terrible secret. Helen is known to be willful; she takes after her unmarried Aunt Margaret, who has long been an outcast of the tribe. She has taught her niece to read and has given her ideas about the world beyond their island. Despite dire consequences if caught, she helps Helen to escape. Written as a long, first-person prose poem, the story is well told and compelling. Throughout this short novel, Collins subtly reveals who these people are, their customs, and what awaits Helen if she stays. This is a tough book that expects a lot from its readers. The terrible secret hidden in the hut may be lost on younger teens or less-sophisticated readers. Nevertheless, this is a powerful and unique book.
Roxanne Burg, Orange County Public Library, CA
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.
Gr. 8-12. Helen hates the fattening hut, where her mother, according to tribal custom, has sent her to gain weight (to become more beautiful) in preparation for an arranged marriage and motherhood. She dreads the upcoming prenuptial initiation rites, which will include a mysterious "cutting" ceremony, or female circumcision. Aunt Margaret, who is shunned because she was educated by visiting Westerners and refused the cutting ritual, is Helen's only reminder that she may have other choices. Terrified, Helen flees the fattening hut and embarks on a terrifying journey through her island's wild forests. In an appended note, Collins writes that she based her story on an invented amalgam of existing tribal cultures throughout the world, but her blending of the authentic and the imagined yields a generic primitive island culture of "savage" customs and Western saviors. The closing note also talks more about female circumcision, but readers confronting the concept for the first time will most likely still be confused. What works here is the gripping survival story. Written as a long poem in Helen's precocious voice, the telling brims with lyrical descriptions as it raises provocative questions about cross-cultural boundaries and human rights. Nancy Farmer's A Girl Named Disaster (1996), about a Mozambique girl who flees an arranged marriage, and Christina Kessler's No Condition Is Permanent (2000), in which a character also faces female circumcision, present similar points for discussion. Gillian Engberg
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Top Customer Reviews
Wow! Intense and beautifully written story about a difficult subject and wonderfully handled! I loved Helen and her bravery and strength in fighting what is expected of her. This is now my favorite novel by this author.