Thursday, August 21, 2008

The Random Shelf: Young Adult Fiction

I read Cry, the Beloved Country when I was in middle school (borrowed my sister's copy). Apartheid was still very much in the news, so although the novel was a bit difficult at times due to the beautiful yet abrupt prose, I understood the basic struggle of the characters. Reading Waiting for the Rain: A Novel of South Africa would have been an excellent age-appropriate companion to that complex novel.

Although Tengo is a native South African and Frikki is an Afrikaaner, they enjoy playing together on Frikki's uncle's farm when Frikki visits for the summer. As Tengo grows older, his dissatisfaction with farm life and his yearning for more education lead him into Johannesburg, and his friendship with Frikki fades. The Soweto riots have sparked student boycotts and confrontations between students and the army.

The laws of apartheid in South Africa ended in 1993; since then, South Africa has largely been out of the news in this country. Young readers unfamiliar with the aspects of apartheid will be stunned at the gross inequalities and insults suffered under the regime. The surprising final confrontation between Tengo and Frikki, both young adults on opposite sides of the political spectrum, is intense, dramatic, and heartbreaking. The novel was written in 1987, so it doesn't qualify as historical fiction. However, this is an illuminating look at South African society through a contemporary author.

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