New York: Annick Press, 2004. $19.95,
ISBN 9781550378351 / 155037835XISBN Paper 9781550378344 / 1550378341.
Note: Sixteen-year-old Chanda Kabelo has secrets. She loves school and dreams of winning a scholarship one day, but people are dying around her. Everyone is afraid to say why, but Chanda knows: it's because of AIDS.
Opening with a scene of Chanda visiting a funeral home to buy a coffin for
her baby sister, readers are quickly brought up to speed with the cold
reality of death in sub-Saharan Africa. Chanda's feelings of shame and
sadness are contrasted with the funeral home's shameless business of
profiting from human suffering, and a funeral home owner who is
patronizing and insensitive.
Chanda's Secrets takes place in nameless country that accurately resembles
a place where over a quarter of the population is living with HIV.
Chanda's struggles are similar to millions of other children living in Sub Saharan Africa. Having lost her father, stepfather, 3 older brothers, sister and several community members, Chanda quickly moves from the
playful ignorance of youth to an adult life, even though it is difficult for her to understand some of what is happening around her.
Chanda is a mature, thoughtful protagonist who struggles to understand the
world around her. Chanda struggles with many universal teenage issues.
She is conflicted by what she wants in life versus what adults expect of
her, she is bothered by the contradictions between what people say and do
and she questions her own intentions as she struggles to define who she is
in a world where she is losing so much.
Secrecy and stigma are themes throughout the book, as might be expected by
the title, Chanda's Secrets. The book confronts not only personal secrets
around illness, but also sticky moral issues. Stratton encourages the
reader to question the impact of secrets and also contradicts many myths
and misinformation about HIV. Stratton portrays women with pride and
dignity, putting prostitution and rape in perspective without making
stereotypical judgments about lack of moral character. Without demonizing
women, he confronts the difficult choices women and girls are asked to
make in a poverty stricken situation.
Though the Hollywood ending makes the story slightly unrealistic, teens
who will never experience the struggles of a girl like Chanda may be given
a face and a story to connect with the statistics they hear on the news.
This book is recommended for youth ages 14-18.
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Reviewed by: Elizabeth Berges, Middle School teacher
Subject: Southern Africa / HIV / AIDS / CABA Winner / Fiction