In her debut novel, Raina applies the now-familiar "teenage girl takes on the government" trope to the Soweto uprising of June 1976.
Zanele, a black grade-12 student, is not a reluctant hero. She starts her portion of the narration by describing her role in the attempted bombing of a power plant and goes on to be one of the primary organizers of the student protest against unjust language laws. She is a leader by conviction. The author uses three other narrators to highlight this. Jack is Zanele's most obvious foil. A white boy from a middle-class family, his understanding of racial inequality extends only to his attempts to get close to Zanele, who occasionally assists her mother in serving his family. A black gang member and an Indian shopkeeper’s daughter respectively, Thabo and Meena are united by their friendship with Zanele but diverge in the ways in which they engage with the community and the police. The presentation of characters with different racial identities beautifully highlights how those identities shape the characters’ understandings and experiences of apartheid and their subsequent reactions to the uprising. Small details, such as Jack and his friends listening to Miles Davis as they put on blackface, stoke the tension in the prose. The violence that erupts is gut-wrenching but unsurprising. Readers who love the fast pace and high stakes of dystopian teen literature should snag this book.
This timely reminder of the power and passion of young people contextualizes current student protests by honoring those of the past. (historical note, glossary, glossary sources) (Historical fiction. 13-adult)