Wednesday, August 31, 2011

High School Pick: This Thing Called the Future

This Thing Called the Future
by J.L. Powers
Cinco Puntos Press
213 pages with glossary of Zulu words

Disturbing, yet compelling, heartbreaking, yet uplifting, anguishing, yet soaring, This Thing Called the Future paints a grim picture of post-apartheid South Africa, a country so ravished by AIDS and poverty that a whole generation of children is growing up without parents--their parents victims of the disease.

Khosi is a fourteen year old girl living with her grandmother Gogo and little sister Zi. Her mother works in a neighboring town but only makes it home occasionally. Their village is small, achingly poor, and squalid--full of people sick and dying. Many do not have access to medicine and they choose to visit the local sangoma, a traditional healer who uses herbs to treat maladies. Khosi grapples with the ideas of modern medicine and education and her grandmother's world of superstition, magic, and the "ancestors."

When Mama visits, Khosi notices she is frighteningly thin and realizes that Mama is hiding her illness. A neighbor carries a grudge against Mama and her entire family claiming that Khosi's mother stole her insurance money. She swears redemption and threatens ruin for the family. Khosi seeks help for her family and her own bad dreams from the sangoma. She goes through a ceremony to purify herself and their home. The sangoma cuts her skin behind her ears, on her ankles and her feet. She and her grandmother must go through this for five days in order to purify them from the neighbor's curse.

Khosi knows her Mama would never steal from someone else. As Mama gets sicker, she makes Khosi promise to keep a secret. There is money in a bank in the city. It is meant for Khosi to leave South Africa and take her little sister Zi with her to get an education, escaping this cycle of poverty and ignorance.

When Khosi questions why this disease is killing their people, Mama says, "Don't look at the past...It's there and will always be there and there is nothing you can do to change it. Now, now you must look ahead. There is only this thing called the future."

Khosi loves South Africa and can't bring herself to think about leaving her beloved homeland. When Mama dies, Khosi is finally able to let go the past and to look ahead to this thing called the future.

Recommended grades 9-up. Mature situations, violence.

FTC Required Disclaimer: I received this book from the editor of the newspaper for a column review. I did not receive monetary compensation for this review.

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