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Title: The Mzungu Boy
Author: Meja Mwangi
Number of Pages: 150 pages
Book Number/Goal: 55/75 for 2009
My Rating: 4/5

Set in British-ruled Kenya in the early '50s, this is the story of Kariuki, a Kenyan boy who becomes friends with Nigel, an English boy who's come to stay on his grandparents' farm during the summer.

What I really liked about this book is how honest it was. While the boys are friends, it doesn't paint an idealistic portrait of their friendship. Being friends doesn't magically make the horrible things that are going on any better, nor does it solve any problems. In fact, it only makes things worse. It's not a story about a white person becoming friends with a person of color and learning to be a better person, either. This is told from Kariuki's POV and Nigel's entitlement and privilege are not glossed over at all.

For example, when they first meet, he insists Kariuki take some fish he (Nigel) caught, even though Kariuki tells him they're not allowed to have fish and that he will get in trouble if he takes them. So of course Kariuki gets in trouble, and Nigel is just la-di-da, whatever, and goes on about his merry way and continues to do the same sort of thoughtless things throughout the book. Another good example is when the villagers are all rounded up in a pen because Nigel's grandfather thinks they've done something, and Nigel just sits there and then when he spots Kariuki, waves blithely at him.

Reading this book, I could imagine how it would have been if written by your typical white children's author and was so, so glad it wasn't.


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