There’s a teacher’s guide in pdf format at
narrator: first-person, Chanda
I’m about halfway through with this novel set in a composite, fictionalized sub-Saharan country, as Stratton explains in his “Author’s Note.” Stratton thanks people in Botswana, Zimbabwe, South Africa, and Kenya, and the names and places (like “J’burg”) evoke S. Africa more than anyplace else. Chanda, a sixteen-year-old who loves to read, is surrounded by death…the novel starts with her in the office of Bateman’s Eternal Light Funeral Services as she arranges for the funeral of Sarah, her one-and-a-half-year old half-sister. Stratton writes concisely and the tone is consistently somber, except when Chanda talks about her friendship with Esther. Halfway through and there have been many deaths, but the core issue surrounds the stigma of HIV/AIDS. There’s more to come in that area. So far, we know Esther’s parents died of HIV/AIDS, and although Esther attempts to maintain the more palatable idea that her parents died of other causes, the community knows the truth on some level.
It’s afternoon, 11 July, and I’ve finished the book — after sandwiching it between The Lightning Thief and two Sammy Keyes’ books. This has been the most difficult read so far; that’s because of the subject and the conditions under which the narrator lives. I keep thinking she’ll crumple under fate’s burden; but she doesn’t. Chanda is a very strong and multi-faceted female character.
This book is important. It’s tightly written. But it ain’t easy.