Sometimes we judge books by the cover. I know we all say not to, but I find myself doing it all the time. I’ll admit that the cover of this one never quite caught my eye. In fact, I only picked it up because it was on a state awards list one year and I was booktalking it to the schools. Once I read it, I absolutely fell in love.
The story is all about Habo and his family. Habo has always been different from everyone he knows. Light eyes, yellow hair, and white skin. Many in his African village call him a zeruzeru, a ghost boy, a nothing. It’s not until his family goes to live with his aunt in Mwanza that Habo learns zeruzeru has another meaning, albino. Of course, even in this new town, he finds out being a zeruzeru is bad. Here he won’t be ignored, instead he’ll be hunted because albino body parts are thought to bring new luck. And one hunter, Alasira, has gotten way too close and has already made one attempt on Habo’s life.
On the run, Habo finds himself in Dar es Salaam where albinos are supposed to be safe. The only problem is the city is HUGE and Habo doesn’t know where to go next. When hunger takes over, he tries to exchange an old man’s meal for money, but Kweli, a blind carver has other plans. Instead, he offers Habo a place to stay and food in exchange for helping him around the house. As Habo settles in, for the first time in his life, he finally feels at home! He even learns he has a talent for carver. But when a demon from his past returns, he realizes his running days may not be done after all.
The beautiful thing about it is that while the situation is unique, there are emotions that everyone can relate to. Those feeling of belonging somewhere are universal. While the teens may not understand what it’s like to albino, they’ll understand what it’s like to fit in or be bullied/teased. It’s wonderful to see Habo grow as a person; from this fearful boy to one that knows what he’s good at and knows where he belongs.
The sad thing, though, is that albinos are truly hunted in Africa, so while it is fiction there is a spark of truth behind it. You can even see a 30 min documentary called Fear & Loathing: Albino Africans Survival in Tanzania. My hope is that this book with spark teen interest to learn more as they see how other teens live their lives in other countries.