Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Book Review: Milk of Birds by Sylvia Whitman

American teenager K.C. hates school, especially reading and writing.  So when her mother gives her the gift of participating in Save the Girls, an organization that pairs American donors with recipients in Darfur.  They will spend a year exchanging letters and the American partner donates money towards teaching the women in Darfur a trade.  K.C isn't thrilled at the idea of spending her free time doing something that seems so much like schoolwork, but as the letters begin to arrive from her partner, Nawra, K.C. finds herself moved by the suffering Nawra has experienced.  The more K.C. learns about Darfur, the more active she becomes at her school, raising awareness and forming a club devoted to activism.

I was mostly unimpressed with the writing.  I felt like I wasn't really sure who the intended audience for this book was.  K.C. is a young teen, and she reads as such.  She's immature, self-centered, and just your typical high school freshman.  Nawra on the other hand, has experienced all kinds of horrors.  The book doesn't shy away from very difficult topics - genocide, rape, female genital mutilation.  The way these topics are dealt with would push me towards an older teenage audience, but K.C.'s immaturity and youth make the American portions of the novel seem more appropriate for a younger audience.

Entertainment Value
This was just an ok read for me in terms of entertainment.  I loved Nawra's story and was completely captivated by her portions of the book.  I couldn't bear K.C. and, despite the fact that she becomes marginally more interested in the world outside of herself, I didn't see much character development from her.  The portions featuring her and her very first-world struggles bored and irritated me.

Again, I'm just really not sure who the intended audience for this book is.  I applaud the author for taking on a hard topic and attempting to bring some of the issues facing women and teens in other countries, particularly war-torn countries, to the attention of younger readers in America.  But I didn't think the book was particularly well-written and I found K.C. to be obnoxious.  At the same time, I can't come up with another title that I'd recommend for young teens to read.

For older teens, or adults, those whose can handle the harsh realities faced by the people of African genocides, I'd recommend the documentary The Devil Came on Horseback, or the books The Enough Moment (John Pendergrast), A Long Way Gone (Ishmael Beah), Tears of the Desert (Halima Bashir) and They Poured Fire On Us From The Sky (Benjamin Ajak).

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