Chanda’s Secrets by Allan Stratton
If it hasn’t happened already, soon enough Chanda’s Secrets will be coming to a theater near you … it arrives Friday, August 5, if you happen to live in the DC metro area. As internationally lauded as the film version – titled Life, Above All – has been, no celluloid version could possibly capture the breadth and depth between the pages of Canadian writer Allan Stratton‘s 2005 Michael L. Printz Honor Book for Excellence in Young Adult Literature. Do yourself a favor: Read, then see …
In the small town of Tiro in a fictional southern African country, 16-year-old Chanda is the oldest child living at home with her mother and three younger siblings. Her beloved father died in a horrible mine accident years before, and since then, her mother has been unlucky in her subsequent relationships, each producing another child. Yet regardless of her personal struggles, Mama has always managed to be a resilient, devoted, caring parent … until now.
When Chanda’s baby sister dies, the family quickly begins to unravel. The baby’s father, an alcoholic lothario, rarely bothers to come home and soon enough disappears. What seems to begin as utter grief saps Mama’s strength, until she can no longer rise from her sleeping mat. Mama insists that the only way she can recover is to make peace with her estranged family, so she travels to her home village leaving Chanda in charge with promises of a swift return. With all the crushing illness around her, Chanda must face the secret that no one dares to name.
With the support of her best friend Esther, who lost both parents to the unnamable disease, the sometimes begrudging love of Mrs. Tafa next door, and the guidance of her highly respected high school teacher, Chanda confronts the town’s ignorance and crushing judgments, and breaks the taboo silence demanded of HIV/AIDS victims. Unlike the silently complicit victims’ families, Chanda openly decides what is best for her family, especially for her frail mother.
In spite of the multiplying illness and deaths throughout, Stratton’s unforgettable story is driven by courage and abundant hope. Chanda’s education plays a pivotal role in her capable decisions and justice-fueled demands. Amidst excruciating choices and impossible challenges, she manages to hold on to her dreams of scholarship and degrees … and while no easy fairy tale ending awaits, Chanda’s inspiring determination will make you believe she’ll someday, somehow accomplish all.
Read …then see … then read some more: Chanda’s story continues in Chanda’s Wars.
Readers: Middle Grade, Young Adult