Habo is short for Dhahabo, which means golden in Kiswahili, the language of Tanzania. No one in Habo's village has ever seen an albino before and consider him very unlucky. I have to tell you right off, this book really got to me. It made me so angry and the tension was so palpable that I had to shut the book to make myself stop reading in order to calm myself down. The only other time I remember being so affected by a book was when I read The Poisonwood Bible, interestingly it is also set in Africa. Why was I so angry? Although this book is a work of fiction, the situations portrayed in it are true. According to the information provided at the back of the book, this issue in Tanzania around hunting albinos is actually going on now and is a relatively new problem. Under the Same Sun, a nonprofit organization working to rescue people from albinism attacks, reported in June 2012 that 71 people with albinism have been murdered in Tanzania and another 28 escaped but with severe mutilations. How and why do such weird beliefs spring up? It is frightening and disgusting. Like I said, it really got to me.
At any rate, Golden Boy has just catapulted itself onto my list of top YA books of the year. The topic, living in Africa with albinism, is certainly a unique one. Yes, it is a story about prejudice and the effects of poor education, but it is also a story of acceptance and of bravery. Habo becomes a complete person by the story's end, not just a "zeruzeru" (nothing) as he is called by others his whole life. His growth is applaudable. Sullivan also proves that she is an author to be reckoned with by using wonderful prose as she describes the Tanzanian settings and the inner turmoil of our young protagonist. Here she describes a day in the life with one brief sentence: "...the day drags its dusty body across us, crushing me with the weight of a hundred tiny tasks." I know that feeling. don't you?
One additional aspect of Golden Boy that I really liked made it apparent that Sullivan had done her homework. She not only describes that landscape of Tanzania with picturesque language, she sprinkles Kiswahili words throughout. To aid the reader she provides a short dictionary of words and phrases at the back of the book. I consulted it often. The use of Kiswahili words lends the book an air of authenticity not often found in books whose settings are different from our own.
I think that this cover art is spectacular and perfect for the story so it is noteworthy. The young man is barely in focus, as if he barely exists, just as Habo barely exists at the beginning of the story. Here's a shout out to the artist, Jesse Joshua Watson, and the cover designer, Ryan Thomann.
I highly recommend this book. Asante (thank you) to the publisher, G.P. Putnam's Sons, for providing me the ARC from which I wrote this review.
30 books this Summer Reading Challenge
26 / 30 books. 86% done!