The Snow Angel by Lauren St John

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Ill. by Catherine Hyde. Zephyr, 2017. ISBN 9781786695895
(Ages 10+) Recommended.Themes: Personal identity, Africa social life and conditions, survival, resilience. " . . . climbing is like the journey of life. You start slowly. You try one way and if it doesn't work out or you meet some obstacles, you keep searching until you find another trail. There is always a second chance."
Lauren St John's The Snow Angel is a powerful and confronting story, a drama played out in three acts, the joys of family life, in the slums of Nairobi and finally new beginnings in Scotland. Makena lives with her parents in the busy city of Nairobi, sharing her father's passion for mountain climbing. She is fascinated by snow and often dreams of climbing Mt Everest with Hilary and Sherpa Tensing, and to her delight her father leads her on a trip to climb Mount Kenya. His sage advice stands her in good stead when her life takes on a tragic turn. After the mountain trip her parents leave to nurse Aunt Mary, an aid worker in faraway Sierra Leone. Struck down by the Ebola virus, her parents leave behind their daughter who is forced to grow up quickly, facing a destitute life, struggling to survive.
Forced to leave the family who are minding her, then due to a series of unfortunate incidents, she ends up running away, sleeping in a skip, fighting off attackers and desperately looking for food. With a street savvy albino girl Snow, Makena quickly learns the ways of slum life, gang warfare, starvation and experiences children being abducted and sold into slavery.
Music brings joy to their lives and the recurring motif of snow and magical sightings of the silver fox are signs that lift the young girl's spirits. Fortuitously Makena's life is changed when she meets Helen an orphanage director for the forgotten children of Kenya. In the third act, Makena's luck changes as she flies off to Helen's homeland Scotland, and slowly makes a new life with her.
The Snow Angel is wonderfully written, the shades of African life, the class and social divide, life and death, the confronting survival of the impoverished are all realistically portrayed. The harsh realities of Makena's life are told honestly and make this a book suited to a teen audience. The moody, dark drawings add depth to this emotional story which seamlessly explores themes of friendship, survival, and courage and seeking positivity in the face of despair. Even in the darkness there's a little glimmer of light shining from the tail of the magical silver fox.
Rhyllis Bignell