I first read about Golden Boy on Sherry’s blog and knew I wanted to read it because I find books set in other countries (especially in African countries, for some reason) fascinating. Due to the busy-ness of the holidays and some home-improvement projects we have in the works, it took me a while to read this one. However, that’s certainly not because of the writing–Tara Sullivan has written a beautiful story in Habo’s tale of survival and coming to grips with who he is. Habo is a thirteen year old boy in Tanzania. The youngest son in a family of four children, Habo lives a very small and sheltered life because he has albinism. This is something that makes him unique, of course, but even more than that, it makes him subject to persecution. This, coupled with the threat of sunburn, circumscribes Habo’s life to traveling no further than from his home to his school and back again. His family situation is even compromised because his father abandoned the family after his birth. When his family has to leave their village because their money has run out, Habo learns the harsh truth: some people believe that the body parts of an albino person have good “magic” or luck, so even his very life is threatened. Because he is being hunted and pursued by a man intent on poaching more than elephant ivory, Habo runs to the capital city of Dar Es Salaam where a whole new world eventually opens to him. First, though, he has to learn to trust a blind sculptor who sees Habo for who he is, not what he looks like.
I have such a hard time believing that this book is Tara Sullivan‘s debut novel. She really is a master. I enjoyed not only because it is a very compelling story, but also because Sullivan‘s prose is beautifully descriptive. Here is a passage that showcases her talent:
Mother and I have always been like the two posts of a door frame, unable to move closer or further away, and the emptiness that sits between us is the shape of my missing father. He left right after I was born, when the whispers started that Raziya gave birth to a white son–not a good brown child like the three born before him, but white. White like ugali in the pot; white like the teeth in your face; white like a tourist who isn’t where he should be. Why do I look like this when my parents and my brothers and my sister are a deep, warm brown? I don’t know what to think. But whatever it was that my father thought, he thought it hard enough that he left and he has never come back. (14)
This book reminds me of A Single Shard by Linda Sue Park, mostly, I think, because both involve a boy with a physical characteristic that makes him different who finds himself changed by his relationship to an artist. I love both books, and I give them both a Highly Recommended. Golden Boy has been nominated for a Cybils in the Young Adult Fiction categoy, and while I’m not sure how it will fare against the other, more typical young adult novels, it’s definitely a winner in my book. In fact, there’s nothing much (aside from the obvious issue of violence against Habo) that would prevent me from giving this to Lulu pretty soon to read. It’s not you typical YA fare, that’s for sure.