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
Reviewed by: Elizabeth Berges, Middle School teacher
Subject: Southern Africa / Malawi / AIDS / Grandmothers / Fiction / CABA Honor