A child's shocking experience of ritual servitude.
Young Abeo lives in an affluent, urban neighborhood in the fictional African nation of Ukemby. With a spacious home, loving parents, and a baby brother she adores, Abeo is leading a happy and secure childhood. She even has an enchanting Aunt Serafine, who visits from the U.S. and introduces her to worldly delights like Big Mac sandwiches. Before her tearful farewell to Serafine, Abeo takes a ring from her aunt’s collection of bangles and beads, hoping that together with her earnest prayers, the ring will draw Serafine back to Ukemby. It is a childish plan, but Abeo is soon convinced that her secret misdeed is the cause of the horrific shift in her life. The reader knows better, as do the adults around her who instigate, ignore, or are impotent to help when a trusted adult delivers Abeo to a fetish priest at a distant village shrine to become a trokosi, a female slave. It’s an astonishing and desperate act, meant to appease the gods, following old traditions, after Abeo's father is accused of wrongdoing. But there is nothing holy at the shrine. The obscenities inflicted upon Abeo and the other young girls held captive are profound and inhumane. Back-breaking work, a near-starvation diet, beatings, and rapes—it's hard to keep reading as Abeo experiences loss after loss, but it would be a mistake to put the book down. Though Abeo’s childhood, body, and, finally, her spirit are destroyed, McFadden’s often riveting prose keeps the reader turning pages. Several plot twists, such as the revelation of Abeo's parentage, seem wedged in, but in the end, the promise of seeing Abeo survive the tragic theft of her childhood makes up for the lack of a more nuanced plot.
An engrossing novel that truly is a praise song for survivors everywhere.