by Katie Quirk
Eerdmans Books for Young Readers
Back Cover: Thirteen-year-old Shida, whose name means “problem” in Swahili, certainly has a lot of problems in her life—her father is dead, her depressed mother is rumored to be a witch, and everyone in her rural Tanzanian village expects her to marry rather than pursue her dream of becoming a healer. So when the village’s elders make a controversial decision to move their people to a nearby village, Shida welcomes the change. Surely the opportunity to go to school and learn from a nurse can only mean good things. However, after a series of puzzling misfortunes plague the new village, Shida must prove to her people that moving was the right decision, and that they can have a better life in their new home.
First 2 Sentences: Tum, tum, tum, ratta, tum, tum, tum. The village’s talking drums cut through the humid air.
In 1967 Tanzania, President Nyerere urges the people to work and live as an extended family, sharing more resources so more can have those resources. The village of Litongo, where Shida and her mother live, has no medical clinic. They rely on healers and medicine men. Shida’s is a healer in her village and wants to pursue this as a career. When the leaders choose to follow President Nyerere’s plan, they move the village of Litongo, save a few families, to New Njia Panda. There the two communities will share a medical clinic, a school for both boys and girls, food and other resources.
Shida is excited, especially when she sees a woman dressed head-to-toe in white and, realizing she is a nurse, hopes she can be the nurse’s apprentice. Shida’s mother has no plans to move. She has been in a deep depression since Shida was born and her father died. She blames Shida for his death, hence her name. After much encouragement, The two pack their things and make the long walk to New Njia Panda.
In New Njia Panda, they find a new school, a medical clinic, and water from a pump. But their farmland is now hours from their home, making it all but impossible to plant. The community garden will feed them, but her mother sees this as a curse. In fact, everything that goes wrong in this new life, she considers a curse. Shida views everything as a blessing and enjoys her new life, despite the bully at school, and the problems her people face, such as someone letting all their cattle run free. It will take an awful disease, two determined women, and a beloved grandfather to bring the entire village home.
I really liked A Girl called Problem. Though Shida’s culture was new to me, I found it all fascinating, mostly because of the stark difference between her life in 1967 and mine. I cannot image harvesting all the family’s food, living in a one room home—let alone a hut made of mud and cow dung—not being allowed to attend school, and being expected to learn chores in anticipation of a marriage where the man ruled. Litongo is a very patriarchal society and Shida does not fit in. That is the problem, not that Shida is the problem.
Shida sees all of this as normal but wants to change. She wants to learn, to become a great healer, and to have a career before she has a family. Luckily, Shida has someone to look up to in Nurse Goldfilda. When things get bad, especially with two bullies, Shida hangs tough and helps her cousins do the same. I like her determination and spunk. When provoked, I think she has a fiery temper that can help change occur.
Shida is a good role model for young girls. She is living in a society where women are second-class citizens with limited opportunities, yet she goes after what she wants, unwilling to give up her dreams. A Girl Called Problem is about Shida’s life, her determination in odds that stack against her. It is an extended family’s trial and triumphs in a new land. This extended family cares for each other in a way not often seen today. I think kids will be impressed with the way all these family members stay together.
A Girl Called Problem is a story both boys and girls will enjoy. I think adults will love this story, as did I. The author based her story on the real Tanzania, the Sukuma people, and her time in Africa. A Girl Called Problem is a middle grade novel kids will learn much from and enjoy. The villagers speak two languages, Swahili and Sukuma—glossary in back—live in an age of witches and curses, and are building a country from the ground up. Not yet born, middle grade kids may think the stark African conditions of 1967 were normal “for so long ago.” This is a perfect book for school libraries and the study of cultures.
A Girl Called Problem is an uplifting story of hope and possibility. It will keep you mesmerized until the very end. It will make you laugh and it will make you cry. Mostly, it will make you think. A Girl called Problem is one of those stories that will stay with you long after you’ve read the last word.
by Katie Quirk website blog facebook twitter Eerdmans Books for Young Readers website blog facebook twitter Released April 19, 2013 ISBN: 978-0-8028-5404-9 256 Pages Ages: 9 and up . © 2013 Eerdmans Books for Young Readers Text: Copyright © 2013 by Katie Quirk
DONATED TO LOCAL PUBLIC LIBRARY
- Two year in Tanzania informs author’s first book for middle-school readers (bangordailynews.com)
- Nomination: A Girl Called Problem (ameliabloomer.wordpress.com)
- review – Library Lily by Gillian Shields (kid-lit-reviews.com)
- review – I Wish I Had . . . by Giovanna Zoboli (kid-lit-reviews.com)
- review – The Chickens Build a Wall by Jean-Francois Dumont (kid-lit-reviews.com)