WOW Review: Reading Across Cultures Volume 3, Issue 4


Going Going
Written by Naomi Shihab Nye
Greenwillow Books, 2005, 240 pp.
ISBN: 978-0688161859

This realistic fiction novel set in San Antonio, Texas centers around sixteen-year-old Florrie’s campaign to support small independent businesses forced to close due to the emergence of large, money-driven chain stores. With the help of her family, who run a small Mexican restaurant, and her friends, Florrie embarks on a mission to educate townspeople that small businesses have given San Antonio its distinctiveness. If these small businesses are driven out by big corporations, then San Antonio will resemble most other cities that have been overrun by franchises. Her campaign begins when she makes a wish on her sixteenth birthday that her family will not shop at any chain stores for the rest of the calendar year. Encouraged by her family’s agreement (although her brother, True, has many reservations about it), she enlists the help of close friends. She organizes an after-school meeting where each person is assigned a certain task in preparation for a rally that Florrie will organize. At the rally, which takes place during a busy Friday afternoon at the courthouse park, supporters hold up posters that say, for example, “WE LOVE INDEPENDENT BUSINESSES!” and “SAY NO TO FRANCHISES.” A news crew arrives and the reporter interviews Florrie. When asked if she truly thinks her small campaign could create a positive effect, Florrie answers, “Why not? Everything starts small!” (p. 83). That night, her friends watch the news report and say that it looked terrific.

Energized, Florrie and her friends plot another attention-grabbing statement. This time, she and her friends decide to drape the large Wal-Mart road sign, with its slogan, “We Sell for Less,” with white sheets which read: LESS IMAGINATION, LESS INDEPENDENCE, LESS CREATIVITY (p. 122). They execute their plan and the local newspaper prints the story in the center of the front page in the Sunday edition. Even the ever-doubting True tells Florrie that he “can’t believe [her] publicity quotient” (p. 148). Things, however, do not always work out successfully. Florrie and her friends plan to float down the San Antonio River in canoes while waving giant protest signs. But before they can reach their final destination, police officers force them to stop. Their protest never makes it onto the news or in the papers, but only lives inside their memories. The novel concludes with a disconcerting situation for Florrie and her family: a Taco Bell is planning to open next to their family’s Mexican restaurant and they must work together to ensure that their small enterprise does not lose business to a national chain restaurant.

This middle-grade book is an ideal novel for discussing the successes and failures that arise when young people choose to take action to create social change. It is a complex novel that illustrates there are many hindrances to taking action to promote social change, especially when that action threatens the status quo. Florrie faces many people who are apathetic to her cause. For instance, after telling a passer-by, “Independent businesses need our support!” (p. 79) the man simply shrugs and walks on. To Florrie, this is a serious insult because the person does not want to engage in dialogue with her. Nevertheless, despite these insults, she shows great perseverance and continues to promote her campaign. Florrie also discovers that fighting for social change means having to face difficult questions and sometimes hostile forces. During a heated discussion, Florrie reminds herself that she needs to “Be Positive. Engage your listeners” (p. 85). By taking action, Florrie experiences how to converse with her opponents; therefore, her strong-willed efforts help her develop into a citizen who is able to engage peacefully with others in her community when social problems arise.

Not only is this novel of high literary quality, infused with Nye’s rich, poetically crafted storytelling, but it also provides authentic descriptions of San Antonio. The unique cultures and residents that inhabit her novel are not stereotypical but contain certain peculiarities that truly put the reader within a deep cultural framework. This is helped in large part by the fact that the author herself has lived in downtown San Antonio for many years. Nye also includes an acknowledgement page at the end of her novel in which she recognizes others who have taken up the cause to preserve small enterprises, thus illustrating that she has obtained input from those who have strived to keep San Antonio’s distinctiveness.

Going Going can be read along with other books by Nye in which the young protagonists take action to create change, including the novel Habibi (1997), in which the main character seeks to create peace between Palestinians and Israelis, and the picture book Sitti’s Secrets (1997), where the main character takes action and writes a letter to the president, asking him to promote peace. Nye’s novels can be read while referring to books that give real-life examples of young adults who have taken action to promote social change, such as Barbara Lewis’s The Teen Guide to Global Action: How to Connect with Others (Near & Far) to Create Social Change (2007). This book provides accounts of teenagers who have taken action to help others, such as helping to end modern slavery and assisting young Afghan women to receive a proper education.

Bart Hill, University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, NM

12 thoughts on “WOW Review: Reading Across Cultures Volume 3, Issue 4

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  8. This is a very unique book written about Maasai culture primarily from the perspective of a pre-adolescent female growing up in that world. A very engaging book in terms of background, cultural perspectives, and the surprising universalities of growing up, regardless of where in the world you are. The female protagonist, Namelok, will undoubtedly give new insight into what it means to be young in Africa to Western readers. This book is particularly enjoyable in terms of how it gives snapshots of what we have already seen about the Maasai culture, Kenya, wild African animals, etc. Yet at the same time, the viewpoint and perspectives of the people inside that culture take it a step further in terms of their modern struggles, survival, traditions, and what that means for the modern day Maasai. What I found particularly interesting are the explanations of how an African tribe views animals and their natural world, along with the ways in which they connect with it. Will that world be lost forever this century? It is a theme that shines through as a common thread running across the pages of this very original book written by a Westerner, Cristina Kessler, under the guidance of Kakuta Ole Maimai Hamisi, a Maasai who helped in the editing of the manuscript. This book stands out as another fine example of African literature, which is a literature that we know little of in North America, and that we undoubtedly need to get much closer to.

  9. For your in formation “wunschkind child without a country” by Liesel Appel as paired in your review of “Traitor” was written by Mrs. Appel where she adapted her memoir “The Neighbor’s Son”for young adult readers. The site is wwwtheneighborsson.com.

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