Tuesday, May 1, 2012

May Is Religion Month: Child of Dandelions

The cover of Shenaaz Nanji's Child of Dandelions gives very little hint about the contents of the book, and since it's been over two years since I placed it on my to-read list, I had to just trust long-ago-me and start reading. The bangles around the wrist of the girl on the cover belong to Sabine, an adolescent in 1972 Uganda, soon after the rise of Idi Amin. My memories of history in the '70s told me that he was a bad guy, but they don't actually get more nuanced that that.

The tension in this YA/older middle grade book grew quickly, as Sabine hears that the Indian community will be expelled. She and her father consider themselves Ugandan citizens and assume that the decree doesn't apply to them, but I knew they were underestimating the situation. Nanji does a good job of showing the complexity of the situation through the connections between Sabine and her ethnically diverse circle, starting with her best friend Zena, ethnically close to Amin who trusts him to restore the country and including Indian relatives and store keepers as well as the family servants, all African.

Things rapidly get worse for Sabine and her family and the mother begs to leave immediately. Secure in their wealth and citizenship, Sabine and her father laugh at the crazy orders of the government, but the danger quickly mounts as army officers shoot people at traffic stops and burst into shops demanding bribes and respect. The disparity between Sabine's wealth and Zena's poverty shows how resentment grew, and even though Sabine learns how her family has discriminated against blacks (the servants eat off separate plates, she never thought to ask after the chauffeur's real name or family), her small steps do nothing to avert society's plummet of a cliff.  Although the worst atrocities happen off-stage, Sabine sees the loss of all safety and barely manages to escape with the her life and her little brother.

I enjoyed the taste of events almost unknown to me, and the story should be exciting enough to get my seventh grader to read it as well, but the cover will be a tough sell, since the passive and relaxed arms show nothing of the dangers and actions taken by the main character throughout.

I've just read some discussion of religion in YA books; despite the prevalence of vampires and demons, apparently very few books actually show kids practicing religion. So I thought for this month I'd pay attention to see it that was try for the books I read, especially the YA and children's book.  In this one, although Sabine is a practicing Muslim, she doesn't spend much time thinking about her religion or praying; she respects the Hindu faith of her mother's friends, many of whom do pray for help. So it's part of the background but not in the forefront of her concerns.

No comments: