Review Blog

Aug 04 2008

Abela : the girl who saw lions by Berlie Doherty

cover image

Andersen Press 2008
(Age 11+) Berlie Doherty hits the jackpot with this compelling story of Abela's journey from Tanzania to Sheffield. It pulls no punches. We follow Abela as she tries to care for her sick mother in a filthy bed in a hospital devoid of medicine and doctors. After her mother's death Abela is smuggled to England by her conniving uncle who is planning to pass her off as his own daughter in the hope that this will give him the right to return to England and join his English wife. But the plan goes wrong and Abela finds herself alone in a strange country with her uncle's cruel and mentally unstable wife. Her escape and journey through the social services system is traumatic and offers no easy answers or cosy solutions.

This is rightfully Abela's story and the other main character, Rosa, plays a supporting role. Both girls are well portrayed. Rosa is a typical teenager, growing up in Sheffield and interested in fashion and ice skating and this makes the sharp contrasts between the lives of the girls particularly effective. Abela and Rosa don't meet until the final part of the book but when they do I felt a huge sense of relief that Abela had found love and stability again.

Doherty does not avoid difficult issues such as the AIDs crisis in Africa, the challenges of being a foster parent and the cruelty of other children. However I have one serious reservation about this book. Abela undergoes the ordeal of female circumcision and although this is described fleetingly I feel it is a step too far in a book that will be read primarily by eleven to fourteen year old girls. In fact the veiled language and vague description will only confuse and frighten young readers and make them demand to know what has actually happened to Abela. Perhaps I am old fashioned, but I think children should be protected from knowledge of this barbaric practice for as long as possible.
Claire Larson

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