Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Buried Beneath the Baobab Tree

Nwaubani, Adaobi Tricia. Buried Beneath the Baobab Tree
September 4th 2018 by Katherine Tegen Books
Public library copy

Our main character, an unnamed girl being raised in a Nigerian village with five brothers, has big dreams for herself. She works very hard in school and hopes that she wins a scholarship. She and her best friend Sarah also watch a lot of Nollywood films about young me in arranged marriages to village girls who instead are secretly in love with female students at the university where they study. Sarah seems to just enjoy the romance, but this further motivates our protagonist, who has her heart set on the well-educated and polite pastor's son who offers to bring her books to read. Her father, who loves to listen to radio news, also believes in educating women, so her chances look good. However, the Boko Haram is running riot over Nigeria, and as they get closer and closer, worry increases. When her mother is off in Jalingo for a wedding, the Boko Haram attack her village, and the girl and her friends are taken into the Sambisa forest. The first thing the group does is to convert the girls to Islam, which the girl does willingly. She has one friend who is Muslim and also married and pregnant, and she is treated a bit better. The girl watches as the women are all taken by the soldiers, and she and Sarah are glad they are still girls, until they realize that they, as virgins, are being saved as a special reward for soldiers. The girl is given to a soldier who wears a mask and goes by the name of Osama, and he treats her roughly but is not overly unkind. Sarah starts to believe the indoctrination, even though the girl has learned from her Muslim friends that Boko Haram's ways are not really religiously accurate. As Sarah becomes more and more devout, she even turns the girl in for heresy, resulting in her beating, and eventually decides to work her way into paradise by wearing an explosive vest and setting it off in a crowded village. The girl starts to believe that she will never escape, but is suddenly rescued by the Red Cross. Even though she is pregnant, she is able to make some plans for her future. There is a lengthy afterword by journalist Viviana Mazza detailing the interviews that went into writing this book.
Strengths: I have a student from Nigeria who is desperate to read about her homeland, and the adult books she has found are full of violence and adult themes. While this tackles the horrific kidnapping, imprisonment, and abuse the girls suffered, it is done is a middle grade appropriate way. 6th graders who pick up the book will sort of understand what is happening, but won't be any more enlightened about the mechanics. I would love to see this writer come out with a book just about daily life, because it's important for my readers to understand that in most parts of the world, school is a treat, and sanitary products we take for granted are extremely valued. Realizing that family dynamics and relationships between men and women are very different in other countries is important.
Weaknesses: There are a few moments that are very uncomfortable-- I wouldn't give this to students younger than 6th grade. Also, the ending is not perfect-- very abrupt and unrealistic. In this middle grade novel, though, it isn't horrible.
What I really think: I'm going to purchase this one, since the discussion of daily life in Nigeria by an #ownvoices author is so valuable, and I appreciate the circumspect way in which this very difficult topic was written.

Ms. Yingling

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