Reviews provided by Syndetics
Publishers Weekly Review
In her latest novel focused on world issues, Ellis (the Breadwinner trilogy) focuses on the plight of AIDS orphans in Mulawi. In the opening chapters, current events take precedence over character development. The author establishes how 13-year old Binti went from starring on a popular radio show, attending a private girls' school and helping her generous father tend his Heaven coffin shop, to becoming an impoverished AIDS orphan. However, Binti comes to the fore once her father dies (at the funeral, her grandmother reveals the cause as AIDS) and greedy relatives descend upon Binti and her siblings, seize their possessions, and grudgingly offer them homes (separating the sisters from their brother). Ellis lays bare the prejudice and superstitions surrounding AIDS: the abusive uncle who adopts Binti cautions his children to "keep away from them," to avoid contracting the disease, and men believe that sleeping with a virgin will cure them. Hardship has an impact on the family in myriad ways, including her brother's trip to prison and her sister's sensitively portrayed downward spiral into prostitution, but it also brings the siblings full circle to seek out their grandmother, who cares for a band of AIDS orphans, and to employ their coffin-making skills to start another Heaven Shop. The ending may seem a bit tidy to readers who become immersed in this grim portrait of disease and ignorance, but they will likely cheer on this stalwart heroine and may well pay closer attention to headlines about AIDS and Africa. Ages 11-14. (Oct.) FYI: Royalties from book sales will be donated to Unicef. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
School Library Journal Review
Gr 6-9-When 13-year-old Binti Phiri's coffin-making father dies, a grandmother she hardly knows says what no one in Malawi likes to admit: the man, like his wife, died of AIDS. Now orphaned, Binti and her siblings are sent to relatives far from home. A Cinderella-like existence with an uncle whose family ostracizes them and steals their money proves so intolerable that her older sister runs away. Binti, too, escapes and makes her way to her grandmother's village. There she discovers her Gogo surrounded by children, cousins and pretend cousins, all dealing with the effects of the epidemic. A local AIDS activist eventually finds Binti's brother, in jail, and her sister, working as a prostitute. Reunited, the young people open their own coffin shop. The author's travel in the area informs her work, but the message, though important, threatens to overwhelm the story. Binti is a well-developed character, but the others and the events of their lives seem to have been introduced in service to plot; they don't come alive the way the Afghans do in Ellis's "Breadwinner" trilogy (Groundwood) or the way the AIDS victims and their relatives do in Alan Stratton's Chanda's Secret (Annick, 2004). Readers with an interest in faraway places won't mind, though; they will cheer as Binti, self-centered and self-important when life is good, learns through adversity and through the model of her grandmother to think and behave more generously. Teachers and librarians looking for fiction about sub-Saharan Africa will find this title a useful addition.-Kathleen Isaacs, Edmund Burke School, Washington, DC (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Gr. 5-8. Like Allan Stratton's Chanda's Secrets 0 BKL Jl 04, but for a younger audience, this is a poignant story of a child caught up in the AIDS crisis in southern Africa. Binti, 13, lives in a city in Malawi, attends a private church school, and stars in a weekly radio show. Her mother is dead, and then her father dies. No one talks about why until her tough grandmother, Gogo, announces that they died of AIDS. Binti is taken in by cruel relatives, her sister becomes a prostitute, and her brother lands in prison, but they finally reunite with Gogo in a poor rural community. The plot is contrived, and Binti speaks like a Western child at times. But Ellis, who has written about children in crisis in Afghanistan, Israel, and Palestine, and visited Malawi, creates a vivid sense of the place and characters that are angry, kind, brave, and real. The facts about AIDS--the statistics, denial, discrimination, and ignorance--drive the story. Proceeds from book sales go to UNICEF. --Hazel Rochman Copyright 2004 Booklist
Kirkus Book Review
This AIDS-in-Africa story, though occasionally poignant, smacks of intention. Thirteen-year-old Binti lives in Malawi with two siblings and her sickening father. When her father dies, uncles and aunts swoop down, claim the house and possessions, and remove Binti and her sister to one town and their brother to another. Binti's new life is miserable, not just because she's forced to relinquish her radio-acting job, but also because her relatives, mean-spirited and afraid of AIDS, scorn and neglect her. When her older sister runs away, Binti leaves too. She moves in with her kindhearted Gogo (grandmother), who's running a tiny, poor shelter for AIDS orphans and children whose parents are sick. Binti slowly adjusts to this new life, and eventually both siblings join her there. AIDS, poverty, and prostitution are the subjects of this just-adequate "purpose piece." Well-meant, but weakened by an overall feeling of educational message. Allan Stratton's Chanda's Secrets (p. 498) is far deeper and better written (though its African country is fictional). (author's note, map, author interview) (Fiction. 10-13) Copyright ©Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.