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Heaven Shop
Ellis, Deborah; Heaven Shop. Allston, MA: Fitzhenry and Whiteside, 2004. $16.95, ISBN 155041 908 0ISBN Paper 1 55041 907 2.

Note: Binti and her siblings are orphaned when their father dies of AIDS. Split up and sent to relatives all over Malawi, they suffer increasing hardship. (CABA Honor)

A beautifully written journey of one girl's discovery of what is truly important in life. She "has it all" and then loses it when her father dies and she is forced to give up her radio-acting career and go live with relatives who don't really want her.

She doesn't begin to learn life's lessons until she is completely abandoned and forced to fend for herself, at which point, she loses even more than she thought possible, only to find happiness in such simple things as sharing what little she has and taking care of others. Binti learns the hard way what is most important in life, and is forced to take a hard look at her own.

Historically and culturally sensitive, The Heaven Shop is respectful and informative. It doesn't shy away from dealing with difficult issues, nor does it sugar coat them. Instead, the story deals realistically with customs of inheritance without making gross generalizations or judgments about what is done. When the children's extended family descend on their home after their father's death, it is easy to identify with the anger expressed by the protagonist. But the book doesn't let readers get away with seeing things in such black and white. Binti's older sister, who is sensible and strong, accepts the news and treats the relatives with respect, even when they take all of the children's belongings. Though it is experienced through the eyes of a thirteen year old, many perspectives and viewpoints are explored.

The book has wonderful character development. Binti is a stubborn, feisty protagonist who is wonderfully imperfect and loveable. Dealing with her own grief and loneliness Binti's older sister, Junie, closes in on herself and becomes depressed, while Binti gets angry and bitter, fighting the status quo. The sisters show their loyalty and unconditional love to one another as only sisters do, in both what they say and don't say.

It is easy to envision life in Malawi because the story is filled with rich descriptions of the Malawian landscape and day-to-day life, from second hand clothing being sold on the side of a road to lines of women and children waiting to get water in rural areas.

This book is highly recommended for ages 12-18 with absolutely no reservations.

Rating: HR Grade: M Type: Book

Reviewed by: Elizabeth Berges, Middle School teacher

Subject: Southern Africa / Malawi / AIDS / Grandmothers / Fiction / CABA Honor