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Book Review: Burn My Heart

Burn My Heart Burn My Heart by Beverley Naidoo
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As historical fiction, Beverley Naidoo's story serves as a vehicle for bringing to light a poorly documented period of history leading up to Kenya's independence. The story juxtaposes two boys' experiences, one as the colonial land owner's son and the other as son to a native laborer. Each boy's choices have unintended consequences, spiraling out of control within the larger Mau Mau independence movement. But even though it is rooted in history, the message is clearly aimed at themes of nationalism, self determination and forgiveness.

Intended for upper elementary, the book reads quick. There are several dialectic terms and names used but a glossary is available in the back of the book. The colonial father also uses "damn" eight times. I'm sure the author intended it to emphasize the stress felt by the adults, but is unnecessary as the story telling presents the tension well enough without the expletive.

Because the book spirals into tragedy, the level of violence increases throughout the book. Initial tension involves a angered elephant but eventually escalates through bullying, killing and eating a wild bird and ultimately into interrogation and torture. As the native families are uprooted and torn apart, the native son endures forced near drowning and sees his dying father's body. While the colonial son also endures bullying and difficult adversities, his struggles are largely internal with little external hardships or permanent loss.

I would recommend this book to boys around ages 11-13, the same ages as the boys portrayed. Themes of colonialism, apartheid, segregation and racism should be addressed with young readers. While the violence is not overly disturbing, it is compelling and demands a response from the reader.

I would also caution readers not to try and equate the story with the civil rights movement in the United States, though the story occurs during the same time. Some of the themes (such as oppression an racism) may have similarities but the circumstances presented are deeply rooted within an African historical context and more closely resemble the Japanese-American internment camps.

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