Melding the colors of heartache and loss with painterly strokes, Burg creates a vivid work of art about a girl grieving for her recently deceased mother against a Third World backdrop.
Clare is not speaking to her father. She has vowed never to speak to him again. Which could be tough, since the pair just touched down in Malawi. There, Clare finds herself struck by the contrast between American wealth and the relatively bare-bones existence of her new friends. Drowning in mourning and enraged at the emptiness of grief, Clare is a hurricane of early-adolescent emotions. Her anger toward her father crackles like lightning in the treetops. She finds purpose, though, in teaching English to the younger children, which leads her out of grief. Burg’s imagery shimmers. “The girl talks to her mother in a language that sounds like fireworks, full of bursts and pops. She holds her hand over her mouth giggling.... She probably has so many minutes with her mother, she can’t even count them.” Her realization of the setting and appreciation for the Malawian people are so successful that they compensate for Clare's wallowing, which sometimes feels contrived.
Ultimately, Burg’s lyrical prose will make readers think about the common ground among peoples, despite inevitable disparities. (Fiction. 9-12)