Chanda’s Secrets by Allan Stratton

Chanda's Secrets by Allan Stratton

Courtesy of barnesandnoble.com

Gr 8 Up—Chanda, 16, knows loss. First her father and brothers die in a mine explosion, then she’s sexually abused, and now her 18-month-old sister, ill since birth, dies in her mother’s arms. It’s not all sadness though. Her mother is kind, her half brother and sister are usually good company, and even though her best friend Esther is barely surviving as a prostitute, they keep in touch. Allan Straton’s novel (Annick Press, 2004) is set in an African community riddled with HIV/AIDS and plagued by denial, fear, and misconceptions. Despite these challenges, Chanda does well in school, tends to many daily needs for her family, and deals with the erratic drinking and womanizing of her mother’s current live-in man. In her impoverished village, residents gather frequently for traditional funerals and there’s a bossy neighbor who gossips, but helps. Stratton illuminates Chanda’s internal conflicts with insightful, first-person narrative and vivid descriptions. Suzy Jackson reads this Printz Award-winner with convincing emotions ranging from despair to defiance and pride. Listeners follow this determined young woman as she retrieves money stolen from her mother, visits the local overcrowded hospital and travels to her parent’s tribal homeland to find and care for her dying mother. There’s a litany of disappointment and suffering here, but also a tribute to loyalty and truth. The novel provides a riveting view of the ongoing health crisis in Africa, yet offers hope as the protagonist demonstrates her strength and courage. Highly recommended for middle and high school libraries as well as young adult collections in public libraries.—Barbara Wysocki, Cora J. Belden Library, Rocky Hill, CT

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