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Sahwira: An African Friendship: 11/22/09
When the initial uproar over the original cover for Liar was erupting over the book blogosphere I decided to give my library a test. I looked for recently published books for middle grades up through young adults that featured ethnically diverse people on the covers. Two that I picked up from that first test were The Kayla Chronicles (review coming) by Sherri Winston, a book I whole-heartedly recommend and Sahwira: An African Friendship by Carolyn Marsden, a book I could not finish.
Sahwira is based on actual events. Phillip Matzigkeit grew up in the British colony of Rhodesia (now Zimbawe) as the son of Missonary parents. Like his nonfiction inspiration, Evan lives on the mission with his parents and is friends with the local pastor's son, Blessing. He has to find common ground between his life among the blacks with the racism of the white colonists at the all white school he attends. In his free time though, he and Blessing have James Bond inspired adventures and try to build a raft (Huck Finn anyone?)
It's not the events that forced me to put the book aside, but the way in which they are told. First and foremost, there's no life to the book. Everything is told in a bland, emotionless, almost book report style. Secondly there is the Marty-Stu aspect to all the American missionaries. They are just too perfect except that underneath their actions and words is an unspoken but ever present air of superiority. They are always right because they are Americans and they have GOD on their side
Now the novel is supposed to be told from both boys' points of view. Blessing though doesn't have a unique voice. He gladly pals around with Evan. He never questions anything Evan tells him. He never once in the pages I read shows any glimmer of having a personality outside of whatever attributes Evan and the other white missionaries assign to him
After twenty four painful to read pages, I started skipping ahead to see if the book got any better. I could see that Evan went on to a boarding school and had even more confrontations with the children of the white colonists with his Marty-Stu superiority. The book ends with a "meaningful" exchange between Evan and Blessing and neither character seems to have grown or learned anything
The book though has been nominated for a Cybil.