Monday, December 1, 2014

Book review: Golden Boy by Tara Sullivan

Title: Golden Boy
Author: Tara Sullivan
Genre: MG Contemporary
Pages: 368
Publication date: 2013
Publisher: Putnam Juvenile

My rating: 4.5 spitwads / 5

There's not a kid on Earth who hasn't felt out of place. There's not a single child who hasn't gone through a day worrying if others are going to cast their little glances and whisper to their friends the one word that no one wants to be called.


We've all been there. Heck, I remember letting my hair grow out a little during the summer before sixth grade. Longer hair was cool. And I wanted to be cool. So I stepped on the bus for that first day of school, happily sporting the gigantic ball of brown fuzz I called a hairdo. Which is when the giggles and pointing and name-calling started. But there wasn't anything I could do. As far as I knew, we weren't allowed to go to the nurse for a bad hair day. So I suffered through seven and a half hours of class while my stomach collapsed into a black hole of humiliation.

But I digress.

Because hair is the least of thirteen-year-old Habo's problems. He's a white-skinned boy in a land where white skin is considered a curse. To the other kids in his Tanzanian school, he's a zeruzeru, a nothing. To his family, he's a liability. To local hunters, he's gold.

Habo is an albino. He can't spend time outside because the sun holds a special kind of anger for his easily-burned body. His father left as soon as he was born and his family is burdened with the task of finding ways to make enough money so they don't lose their house. But since Habo can't work in the fields like everyone else, they're forced to travel to Mwanza and live with their aunt.

The plan seems perfect. Except in Mwanza, albinos are hunted and butchered like animals. Their remains are sold as good luck charms to businesses and wealthy households. Even with that threat breathing down Habo's neck, his family can't go back to Arusha. Not when all that waits for them there is a life of starvation. Not even when one local hunter discovers where Habo lives. 

Habo has no choice. He flees his aunt's house, hoping to find a place where he can be safe, a place where his family can be rid of him and his curse, a place where he can finally find others like himself.

Naturally, I can't tell you much more than that because SPOILERS. 

But I can tell you that the story Sullivan has created here is drawn from her experiences working in Africa, trying to educate people on what albinism is and what it is not. I was shocked to learn that this is a real problem. Kids are getting murdered and dissected and sold and there are some regions where even the local police turn away their eyes while it happens.

I know, right?

Yikes. However, the heaviness of that reality forming the foundation of Golden Boy never casts a too-dark shadow over little Habo. Sullivan doesn't inject a whole lot of fluff and filler into this story. She allows Habo and his desire to be different drive his journey. It's one that's not without danger and risk and heartache, either. 

This is an amazing read. For children as well as adults. I learned so much travelling with Habo. I laughed with him. I cried with him. I was scared with him. I rejoiced with him. And even though he faces an enemy we've probably never had to face, we can still relate to his story. Because at its core, Golden Boy is a story of acceptance and tolerance.

And that's something everyone wants. That's something everyone needs.

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