Wednesday, June 29, 2022

The Kaya Girl and High Score

Wolo, Mamle. The Kaya Girl
June 28th 2022 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Because Abena's mother has gone to London to give birth and her father is very busy as a doctor in a medical clinic in Ghana, Abena is sent to spend the summer with her Auntie Lydia, who runs a fabric store in the busy Makola Market. This is a big change from Abena's wealthy, privileged life at an expensive, private American school and servants at home. She and her friends are more apt to hang out at the air conditioned mall than the crowded market. Auntie's house is very different as well, and Abena does have her own tiny room, unlike Gifty, who is the daughter of one of Auntie's husband's poor relative. Gifty gets a mattress on the livin groom floor and works in the fabric store every day and helps with household chores like cooking. Abena finds the market interesting, and is intrigued by an errand girl she meets named Faiza. Faiza, a Muslim, has come from the North to work as a kaya girl, who runs errands and carries packages balances in a large bowl on her head. Faiza doesn't speak the same languages that Abena does, but they both speak some Twi and manage to communicate. Abena quickly learns that her life is very different from Faiza's in my favorite scene, Abena whines about how much she hates school because it's a drag to have to go every day. For Faiza, going to school has never been an option. As the two talk, Faiza tells the story of how she came to leave her village and come to the big city, which revolves around a dear friend who was being forced to become the fourth wife of a wealthy man in town. She and Faiza decided to run away right before the wedding, but the two lost contact. Abena continues to help her aunt with the computer in the shop and learns how to fold gele, a traditional head wrap, from a neighboring businesswoman. Abena really wants to be a journalist, and writes a story about Faiza to submit to a writing contest. A misunderstanding in the shop causes Faiza to stop seeing Abena, and the two lose touch for fifteen years, when they reconnect in an unexpected way. 
Strengths: This book was originally published in Ghana in 2012, and is a fascinating look at several different facets of Ghanaian. Abena is from the wealthy upper class, her aunt from a hardworking, middle class background, and Fazia represents the impoverished lower class that struggles just to hold on. The depiction of Faiza and the other Kaya girls renting a place to sleep on a shop floor is heart wrenching, and her desire for an education contrasts nicely with Abena's entitled, casual dismissal of school as something vaguely annoying. Her aunt is a bit leery of Faiza, but Abena's father is glad that the two have become friends and can learn from each other. It was absolutely fascinating to read about the practice of giving children to other relatives to raise lest they become too soft! Since this book is now ten years old, I wonder if this has changed at all. I'm always looking for books written by authors from other places in the world, and this is a great story that I enjoyed a lot. 
Weaknesses: I'm never a huge fan of epilogues, since I would rather come up with my own visioin of what happens to the characters when the book is over. I understand why we see so much of Abena and Faiza's story fifteen years after the summer Abena visits her aunt; it's interesting to see the path both women take. Younger readers will enjoy this, but I prefer ambiguous endings.
What I really think: Definitely purchasing, and this will be a great book to hand to students who enjoyed Baitie's Crossing the Stream. I've had a sizeable number of students with Ghanaian heritage over the years, and I think they will enjoy this look at every day life in that country. 

Howell, Destiny. High Score
June 28th 2022 by Scholastic Press
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

DJ has transferred to Ella Fitzgerald Middle School to escape his dodgy past running scams at his previous school. He keeps his head down, is known only for his ability to get projects done, and has few friends, although he does have a crush on Audrey in his class. When Conor also transferes, the only piece of advice DJ can give his former partner in crime is to not run afoul of Lucky. The student economy at "Fitz" is based on tickets from the nearby Starcade arcade, and Lucky runs several cons, including a lottery for these tickets. If anyone crosses him, he submits a "Rocket Booster" morning announcements that sounds like a compliment but in reality is a jab that will sink a student's social life at Fitz. Of course, Conor crosses Lucky. In order to escape the "Rocket Booster", Conor gives up DJ's past. Lucky and his henchman, Mariposa (whose aunt is the school secretary) call DJ to the library and offer him a deal; get a huge number of tickets, or Conor goes down. DJ doesn't want to comply, but soon acquiesces to save his friend. At first, they find a work around; the Starcade throws out old tickets, some partially shredded, and they don't feel its stealing since tickets are in the trash. They are doing well on collecting the points, but find out that the machines are being upgraded, and their ticket stream will soon dry up. There is a mega Starcade 45 minutes across town, and the boys decide that their best bet for getting there is to be invited to a birthday party. DJ enlists Audrey to help him manipulate Haily into having a party there so she can invite her crush, Tyler, and soon the group is on their way to getting Lucky what he wants. Will DJ be able to pull this final scam before convincing Conor to retire?
Strengths: This was written in a fast paced, engaging style, and I really liked DJ. He was a little bit of a man of mystery, and his personality was unfolded slowly in an intriguing way. I liked how his relationship with Audrey developed, and it was fun to watch her get pulled into his schemes. It is true that middle school students are prone to embracing odd fads, like fidget spinners and silly bandz, so I can see tickets being coveted. (Although I can see enterprising youngsters buying rolls of them online and counterfeiting them!) The adult characters were very shadowy, which worked well for all of the escapades. The cover is absolutely fantastic.
Weaknesses: This was one of those books that was so unrealistic that I had trouble enjoying it personally. Do game arcades even exist anymore? Lucky hangs out in the library and summons people from class? There's a peer "therapist" with an office? The principal allows students to submit the "Rocket Booster" announcements that take down students' social lives? Lucky runs businesses? It's all very clever, and if I think of this as a fantasy book, it makes more sense. This is a "me issue" more than a book issue, but I do appreciate it when authors understand how actual middle schools work. 
What I really think: This is a book that I will purchase even though I had problems with it. Students will be drawn to the cover and the goofy shenanigans of DJ and his friends. Hand to readers who enjoyed Rylander's The Fourth Stall, Ferraiolo's The Big Splash, Johnson's The Great Greene Heist, and Calabreese's Wild Ride
 Ms. Yingling

1 comment:

  1. Both sound good, I'd be very interested in the story from Ghana especially. Thanks for the reviews!