WOW Review Volume V, Issue 2


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City Boy
Written by Jan Michael
Clarion Books, 2009, 192 pp.
ISBN: 978-0547223100

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Imagine being suddenly up-rooted from everything you know and placed where everything is unfamiliar. The way you dress, talk, behave is scrutinized; what you thought was important—private school, computer, television, your own bedroom—is gone; you are no longer the doted upon only child, but one of many; and most importantly, your mother and father have died. Your remaining relatives decide to send you to your auntie’s village—a place your mother has long left behind. It is a place totally unfamiliar—no electricity, mud huts, shared food and clothing, and far from your parents’ graves. What would you do? What would you think? How would you adapt? How would you cope with your grief?

Sam’s father died from AIDS several years before and the book opens with the passing of Sam’s mother, also from AIDS. His auntie convinces other relatives to let Sam come with her rather than placing him in an orphanage. From this point on, everything is different for this “city boy.” One of the first lessons is the idea of community property—Sam must share what he has with his cousins—his clothes, where he sleeps, his food. And when his most prized possession, a pair of blue tennis shoes from his mother, disappears, he learns about trust and family bonds.

The overarching themes of family, loss, loneliness are typical in coming of age stories, but what is atypical is the backdrop of an AIDS ravaged country. City Boy does not disguise the fate of children whose parents die from AIDS or the burden placed on relatives, friends, and neighbors who take them into their homes. At the same time, Michael paints Sam’s city life as materialistic and fragile and his life in the village as the point where his real lessons begin. It is in the village where he learns the rewards of sharing and the meaning of family. So while there is the obvious theme of illness and death, City Boy also contains elements of self-discovery, survival, and journeys.

City Boy might be paired with Deborah Ellis’ award-winning novel, The Heaven Shop (2004). This novel, too, takes place in Malawi and is told from a privileged young girl’s perspective, who suddenly finds her world turned upside down after both of her parents die from AIDS. Juxtaposed with these two realistic fiction titles, Hope Amidst Despair: HIV/AIDS-Affected Children in Sub-Saharan Africa (2011) by Susanna W. Grannis, takes the readers directly to the children whose lives are affected by HIV/AIDS through their first-hand accounts.

Author, Jan Michael, was born in England, went to boarding school in Wales, and has traveled extensively in various African and Asian countries. She is an award-winning author who has written for both adults and children.

T. Gail Pritchard, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ

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