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Under Water

Horn Book Reviews, advanced review

When her grandmother dies, Khosi Zulu (This Thing Called the Future, rev. 7/11), now seventeen, tries to support herself and her beloved little sister as a sangoma, a traditional healer who speaks with the ancestors. Her aunt’s spiteful accusation of witchcraft sets her at odds with her South African township community, however, and without funds, Khosi is forced to drop out of school, breaking her promise to get an education. Then she learns she is pregnant. Her boyfriend Little Man gets a job as a taxi conductor, but the taxi war in their township is heating up, and he and Khosi quarrel when he won’t walk away from the violence. When a hate crime leaves a dead Somali immigrant at Khosi’s door, she feels it is her duty as a sangoma to speak out against the problems tearing her community apart. The South African setting is especially strong, with Zulu words mixed in among the English (a glossary is appended), while the blend of Catholicism, traditional beliefs, and Western scientific thought found in township life allows readers to sample the particular flavor of Khosi’s culture. The way communities deteriorate without enough resources is compellingly sketched, but the treasures at the heart of this story are Khosi’s relationships—with her sister, whom she would do anything to protect; and with the ancestors, whose interference in her life is at times helpful, at times exasperating.
- December 1, 2018 

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