Swahili for Beginners by Lisa Joyal (Rated: C)
The idea of a 13 year-old girl full of "joie de vivre" who strikes an unlikely relationship with a Tanzanian girl on the other side of the globe—through the old-fashioned means of letter writing—is a great one. It brought back fond memories of when I experienced the thrill of getting letters from my Greek pen pal during my own teenage years.
Georgie Wilde, an only child, is an ambitious teen ready to explore all that life has to offer. She becomes friends with Ellie from Tanzania through letter correspondence, sparking in Georgie the desire to visit her new friend and achieve her dream of climbing Mount Kilimanjaro. Lisa Joyal shows us through her first novel how her main character learns and discovers through the eyes of another girl what it's really like to live and grow up in one of the poorest countries in the world.
Georgie's world opens up as she learns about another culture and language while her own life changes as she struggles to adapt to her father's remarriage, her new family, her best friend's suffering over her sister's anorexia, and her mixed feelings about boys. Joyal touches on various issues that touch young ones today—self-image, divorce, friendship, student jobs, boys, and an awareness of serious global problems such as extreme poverty and lack of education.
My only reservation as a Christian parent is the issue of dating that comes up toward the end of the book. Soon after Georgie turns 14, she begins dating. As much as I understand that the topic of boys is present among teenagers, I would not encourage it at such a young age. Dating can easily lead to more serious matters such as venereal diseases and unwanted pregnancies—issues that are not discussed but nevertheless cause much heartache in families. Georgie's story is a good one and would have held her own without her later involvement with a boy.
Other than that, this novel is well developed and easy to read with short chapters. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it.
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