A sensitive and vivid coming-of-age account in a compelling setting.


In Sanders’ debut historical novel, a newly motherless boy accompanies his father to Africa on a religious mission.

Eleven-year-old Mark Morgan’s mother died recently, and now he and his dad, Reece, are starting over in western Kenya at a Quaker mission devoted to teacher training. It’s 1966, and Kenya has been an independent nation for only a couple of years; people’s memories of bloody warfare and prison camps are still fresh. Mark gets an inkling of this struggle when he sees what he thinks is a one-armed man slitting someone’s throat. It turns out to be a barber shaving a customer, but the image haunts Mark; that barber, Mr. Okwiri, lost his arm as a child when a paramilitary general cut it off. Other people in the village are marked by similar cruelties, including Layla, an otherworldly girl whose strangeness is related to “bad things” that she experienced in a detention camp. Still, Kenya works its way into Mark’s heart, and he gains new maturity as he makes friends, develops romantic feelings for Layla, and explores the rainforest. Although he experiences danger and witnesses tragedy, by the end of the story—as his best buddy, Raymond “Radio” Mathenge, tells him—Africa has become Mark’s “mother.” Overall, Sanders presents an engagingly written story with a dramatic historical underpinning. Mark is an appealing character who’s thoughtful, open to new experiences, and courageous. Relatively few readers will be familiar with Quaker evangelicalism and its African expression, which gives the novel freshness. The book highlights details of the country’s history and culture in natural ways without ever feeling overly expository, and Sanders handles gruesome events with a sense of dignity for the victims. Mark, who’s white, is the main character, but Kenyan voices are well represented and diverse. Readers should be aware, however, that although the book’s young narrator and the coming-of-age theme might indicate a middle-grade or YA audience, the novel does include a sex scene between underage characters. Also, the book sometimes misrepresents Kenyan folklore, as when it invokes the Native American concept of the “spirit animal.”

A sensitive and vivid coming-of-age account in a compelling setting.

Pub Date: April 7, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-9995501-2-0

Page Count: 290

Publisher: New Door Books

Review Posted Online: Dec. 4, 2019

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Tinny perhaps, but still a minutely rendered and impressively steady feminist vision of apocalypse.


The time is the not-so-distant future, when the US's spiraling social freedoms have finally called down a reaction, an Iranian-style repressive "monotheocracy" calling itself the Republic of Gilead—a Bible-thumping, racist, capital-punishing, and misogynistic rule that would do away with pleasure altogether were it not for one thing: that the Gileadan women, pure and true (as opposed to all the nonbelieving women, those who've ever been adulterous or married more than once), are found rarely fertile.

Thus are drafted a whole class of "handmaids," whose function is to bear the children of the elite, to be fecund or else (else being certain death, sent out to be toxic-waste removers on outlying islands). The narrative frame for Atwood's dystopian vision is the hopeless private testimony of one of these surrogate mothers, Offred ("of" plus the name of her male protector). Lying cradled by the body of the barren wife, being meanwhile serviced by the husband, Offred's "ceremony" must be successful—if she does not want to join the ranks of the other disappeared (which include her mother, her husband—dead—and small daughter, all taken away during the years of revolt). One Of her only human conduits is a gradually developing affair with her master's chauffeur—something that's balanced more than offset, though, by the master's hypocritically un-Puritan use of her as a kind of B-girl at private parties held by the ruling men in a spirit of nostalgia and lust. This latter relationship, edging into real need (the master's), is very effectively done; it highlights the handmaid's (read Everywoman's) eternal exploitation, profane or sacred ("We are two-legged wombs, that's all: sacred vessels, ambulatory chalices"). Atwood, to her credit, creates a chillingly specific, imaginable night-mare. The book is short on characterization—this is Atwood, never a warm writer, at her steeliest—and long on cynicism—it's got none of the human credibility of a work such as Walker Percy's Love In The Ruins. But the scariness is visceral, a world that's like a dangerous and even fatal grid, an electrified fence.

Tinny perhaps, but still a minutely rendered and impressively steady feminist vision of apocalypse.

Pub Date: Feb. 17, 1985

ISBN: 038549081X

Page Count: -

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Sept. 16, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 1985

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A modern day fable, with modern implications in a deceiving simplicity, by the author of Dickens. Dali and Others (Reynal & Hitchcock, p. 138), whose critical brilliance is well adapted to this type of satire. This tells of the revolt on a farm, against humans, when the pigs take over the intellectual superiority, training the horses, cows, sheep, etc., into acknowledging their greatness. The first hints come with the reading out of a pig who instigated the building of a windmill, so that the electric power would be theirs, the idea taken over by Napoleon who becomes topman with no maybes about it. Napoleon trains the young puppies to be his guards, dickers with humans, gradually instigates a reign of terror, and breaks the final commandment against any animal walking on two legs. The old faithful followers find themselves no better off for food and work than they were when man ruled them, learn their final disgrace when they see Napoleon and Squealer carousing with their enemies... A basic statement of the evils of dictatorship in that it not only corrupts the leaders, but deadens the intelligence and awareness of those led so that tyranny is inevitable. Mr. Orwell's animals exist in their own right, with a narrative as individual as it is apt in political parody.

Pub Date: Aug. 26, 1946

ISBN: 0452277507

Page Count: 114

Publisher: Harcourt, Brace

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1946

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