Book: A Girl Named Disaster
Author: Nancy Farmer
Nhamo’s name means “disaster” in the Shona language, and so far her life has lived up to this promise. Her father cut out before she was born, her mother died when she was very young, and now she lives under the thumb of her tyrannical aunt, forever compared to her saintly cousin and forever found lacking. When it looks like she’s about to be married off to a disgusting old man who has three wives already, Nhamo decides this is the last straw. Her father might have deserted her, but by the custom of the Shona, she belongs to his family and they have to take her in. They live somewhere in Zimbabwe, just a two-day boat trip from her home in Mozambique. Supported by ancestral spirits and depending on her own formidable survival skills, Nhamo is going to find her father’s family if it kills her.
And it just might.
While reading this book, I had to constantly remind myself that it takes place in Africa in 1981. Nhamo’s world is so different from that of the United States at the same time that it feels as if it takes place on a different planet. To her, njuzu (water snake spirits) and ngozi (zombies) are just as real as TV sets and airplanes are to us. Farmer brings out a rich and multi-textured place and culture without turning it into a dry lecture. While she uses a lot of Shona words, none are so out of context that they’re impossible to understand.
If her surroundings are exotic, Nhamo herself is someone every kid will be able to relate to. Smart, impulsive, stubborn, vulnerable, and brave, her quest for a place to call home will keep you turning pages.