Monday, March 26, 2007


Chanda's Secrets

by Allan Stratton. Michael Printz honour book (the teen equivalent of a Newbery honour).

I had heard a lot of buzz around this one, and sometimes that ruins a book (or movie, for that matter) for me. But I was also expecting something heavier, something less optimistic, so the turn for the positive was a nice surprise.

Essentially, this is a book about Africa, about the stories of family breakdown, of the way young girls can become used and abused so easily, about the destructive powers of gossip, and, mostly, about the deep and terrifying impact of AIDS in Africa. Chanda's family is doing well, until her father is killed in a mine explosion, after which her mother finds herself with another man, who they leave after he rapes Chanda. Her next partner leaves them somewhat better off, leaving his house to Chanda's mother when he dies, but the last man, Jonah, runs around and brings home the dreaded disease to Chanda's mother before he leaves and then dies himself. Chanda's friend Esther, having lost her parents, is also at risk, having started to sell her young body in an attempt to earn enough to bring together her siblings again. By the end, Chanda's mother is sick and leaves her to care for her siblings. Chanda goes after her, and finds her dying alone, of AIDS. She decides at this point that she is sick of the shame and knows that she and her mother have nothing to be embarrassed about. She brings her mother home to die with her family around her. With the house and her siblings left to her care, she invites her friend to bring her siblings and live with them, too, sharing chores and the safety of their own home and scorning the gossip that has spread about Esther. When Esther tests positive, Chanda continues to hold her head high, going to the clinic with her in support, despite what people may say. Indeed, her attitude changes the opinion of the neighbour gossip, who gets off her high horse and throws her own weight behind Chanda in the end.

There is a lot here about how superstition and ignorance and fear of people's talk contribute to the spread of both disease and refusal to deal with it. Close to the end, Chanda and her friend go to a clinic, having decided they were sick of the shame and the stigma, and they see a sign: Everyone is either infected or affected. The virus' impact runs deep, not only killing thousands so that new graveyards are full almost before they are opened, but isolating and dividing, as the stigma and fear is enormous.

I love that this book, despite taking on a serious and tragic story, one all too common, manages to end on a lovely note. Not a light, everything's-going-to-be-just-fine note, which wouldn't work, but a hopeful note, with a heroine who finds a way to do what she knows to be right, a way to cope and go on, a way to work towards a future for herself and those she loves. I'm a sucker for an optimist, and I love a strong, pragmatic main character, so this just worked for me.

Labels: , , , ,

Comments: Post a Comment

<< Home