From School Library Journal
Grade 5-8--The friendship between two fifth-grade girls is at the center of this powerful novel, which also deals with the issue of female genital mutilation (FMG). Akilah, a 10-year-old African-American girl from Queens, can't wait for her best friend, Victoria, to come home from a visit to her grandmother in Nigeria. The Victoria who returns home, however, seems like a very different girl--quiet, reserved, and unhappy. Akilah spends the first half of the novel trying to figure out what happened to her friend. Victoria finally spills the truth: her family allowed a doctor to remove her clitoris so she would be a "clean and proper" Nigerian girl. Akilah is outraged, but keeps her friend's secret until her mother finds out by accident. Akilah's mother, also angered, screams at Victoria's mother and causes a rift between the two families. Williams-Garcia provides age-appropriate details without using anatomical terms and addresses some cultural issues and contradictions without overwhelming readers. Mostly the story focuses on the relationship between the two girls and Akilah's sometimes troubled bond with her mother. Because the story is told entirely from Akilah's point of view, the emotional impact of FMG is somewhat muted. However, readers with an interest in human rights and world issues may find the novel compelling, and it can also be appreciated as a story about friendship.--Miranda Doyle, San Francisco Public Library
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*Starred Review* Gr. 4-8. Akilah can't wait to start fifth grade with her best friend, Victoria, who has been in Nigeria for the summer. But Victoria returns completely changed: withdrawn, physically unwell, and unable to laugh. A fifth-grade puberty film gives Victoria the words to tell Akilah what has happened to her: "I don't have what other girls have." Victoria has survived female circumcision, and Akilah is furious but sworn to secrecy, until her warm, supportive parents discover the truth and expose Victoria's family secret. Of the several recent novels about FGM (female genital mutilation), including Pat Collins' The Fattening Hut
[BKL N 1 2003], for older readers, Williams-Garcia's story, written in Akilah's colloquial African American voice, is most successful. It combines a richly layered story with accurate, culturally specific information in language that's on-target for the audience, and the author tempers what could have been strident messages with interesting contrasts: Akilah's parents view FGM as an atrocity, even as they revere African culture; Akilah's aunt, who beats her children, raises questions about the forms of brutality ingrained in many families. Then there's Akilah herself, simultaneously confronted with her first menstrual period and the gravity of what has happened to her friend. Readers will have lots of questions for adults after reading this skillfully told, powerful story. Gillian EngbergCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved