Golden Boy by Tara Sullivan. Grades 7 and up. G.P. Putnam's Sons, June 2013. 354 pages. Review copy provided by my local library.
When Habo's mother can't come up with the rent for their farm in a tiny Tanzanian village, Habo and his siblings are forced to make their way across the Serengeti Park to Mwanza where Habo's aunt and cousins live. It's a dangerous journey and it turns out to be a dangerous destination for Habo.
Habo is a zeruzeru, an albino, someone with no pigment in his skin. He doesn't have the "good" brown skin that his brothers and sister have, but white skin that burns easily in the sun and yellow hair and weak, blue eyes. And in Mwanza, where many believe in luck magic, Habo has a price on his head. The word zeruzeru literally translates to "zero zero", which shows you just what some Tanzanians think about albinos. They're worse than nothing. And just as some people poach elephants for their ivory and for their feet and tails, poachers target albinos because local folklore says their hands, hair, skin, and legs are lucky. Habo can't stay in Mwanza, but with no money, no skills, and a poacher on his tail, where is he to go?
I was intrigued by the subject matter of this book when I heard publishers talking about it at ALA and I think it's an important story that deserves to be widely read. I think it deserves at least as much attention as last year's Wonder, although it is aimed at an older audience and the subject matter is definitely more intense. It actually wasn't as dark as I thought it would be, though. There's a lot of hope in this story.
This is Tara Sullivan's debut novel and she's done her homework. The book includes an author's note that discusses the real situations on which events in the book are based. The author also includes a list of resources for learning more and suggestions for what kids can do to help. I hope that nonfiction authors will take note that this would be a great topic for teen nonfiction!
This is an accessible novel with a compelling plot that will interest kids and may inspire them to learn more about the plight of albinos in Tanzania and what they can do to help.
For more adventure stories based on real situations in Africa, I'd suggest A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park or Chanda's Secrets by Allan Stratton.
Golden Boy is on shelves now!