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This Thing Called the Future
Powers, J. L.; This Thing Called the Future. El Paso, TX: Cinco Puntos Press, 2011. $16.95, ISBN 9781933693958 / 1933693959.

Note: 14 year-old Khosi's mother wants her to get an education to break out of their South African shantytown, although she herself is wasting away from an untreated illness, while Khosi's grandmother, Gogo, seeks help from a traditional Zulu healer.


This Thing Called the Future tells the story of Khosi, a teenage girl growing up in a township on the outskirts of Pietermaritzburg, South Africa. Khosi lives with her grandmother and little sister, Zi, with weekend visits from her mother, a schoolteacher living in a nearby town. Khosi's father is unemployed, living in Durban with his parents, and not very present in Khosi and her sister's lives. Poverty and HIV/AIDS is the backdrop for this coming-of-age story in which a budding romance between Khosi and a neighborhood boy, Little Man, competes with another plot line in which Khosi is the subject of the unwanted attention and pursuit by an old drunk man and a witch.

I very much wanted to like author J.L. Powers' second young adult book project. With a young black South African woman as the first-person protagonist and an early acknowledgement of the difficult circumstances black South Africans find themselves in as a result of the legacy of apartheid social policies, I was expecting a protagonist with whom I would quickly become attached to and root for. Instead, I feel very disconnected from Khosi.

There are a number of scenes that feel inauthentic. Seconds after escaping a thwarted sexual attack from the drunk man, Khosi sees her rescuer, Little Man, in a sexual light. She notices Little Man for the first time and her " skin prickles " (23). I cannot imagine a young woman narrowly escaping a sexual assault by one man to be aroused by another man seconds later. Khosi's voice never feels like that of a teenage girl and while reading I was convinced that the author was a man until I finished the book and saw the author's photo on the back cover. At times the writing is artful, but at times the author is heavy-handed where subtlety would be more effective. The transitions between scenes can be clunky at times and the reader finds herself in a completely new scene with little warning, leading to disorientation and re-reading.

Published in Africa Access Review (February 5, 2013)

Copyright 2013 Africa Access

Rating: A Grade: H Type: Book

Reviewed by: Illana Lancaster, George Washington University

Subject: South Africa / Fiction