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by Jane Kurtz

Pub Date: April 30th, 2001
ISBN: 0-06-029401-9
Publisher: Greenwillow Books

In this slow-moving contemporary novel, a sixth-grader contrasts her new life in North Dakota with her childhood in Africa, while her family struggles with their differing hopes for the future. When Dakar and her parents move to Cottonwood, North Dakota, for a year, leaving her older sister Jakarta in Africa, nothing seems right to the girl. Her parents, both of whom remain largely one-dimensional characters, only contribute to her worries. Her charismatic father longs to be elsewhere, working with Doctors without Borders or helping refugees. Her mother, who grew up in North Dakota, seems distant and ambivalent about being back. Dakar longs for her sister, but when Jakarta reluctantly joins them, the happy family Dakar hopes for still doesn’t emerge. Instead her mother goes away to help an ailing aunt, not realizing that Dakar’s father leaves shortly after her to do rescue work in Guatemala. While high-schooler Jakarta devotes her time to basketball and leads her team to a series of wins, Dakar spends far too much time alone with no adults to care for her. Dakar’s lyrical memories of Africa help sustain her, but may prove confusing to readers unfamiliar with the countries she mentions. Similarly, her frequent allusions to the Bible, Russian rulers, and The Water Babies will be more distracting than meaningful for many readers. Kurtz’s (Faraway Home, 2000, etc.) love for both Africa and North Dakota comes across clearly, but she has woven too many strands into her novel without strong enough characterizations to hold them together. (Fiction. 11-14)