Chanda is a sixteen year old girl living in Africa. She is smart and capable, but her family is poor. She watches her baby sister die of a horrible illness and cannot help but feel a great deal of guilt for the times she was annoyed with her sister's cries and neediness. Her mother is overcome with grief, and her stepfather is never around; he cheats and spends their money on alcohol. Chanda's best friend, Esther's parents died of AIDS so now she has to take care of herself and rumors are circulating that she is making money in unseemly and dangerous ways. Chanda tries to keep her family together and take care of her two younger siblings but when her mother seems to not be getting any better things start to feel hopeless. They live in a community filled with gossip; everyone is worried about the AIDS epidemic but no one wants to talk about it, or even admit that it is going on all around them. Chanda has dreams but will she ever be able to achieve them when it seems like bad luck follows her wherever she goes?
This story was a very intense portrayal of one girl's experience with the AIDS epidemic. Although her exact location is not specified, it is probably somewhere in Sub-Saharan Africa. You cannot help but feel the helplessness and anxiety she feels as she deals with family death and illness, helping raise her siblings, and a best friend who is struggling to survive on her own. Despite the difficult subject matter, I really enjoyed this book. I like books that feel like they could be based on a true story, and this definitely feels very realistic. I highly recommend it to anyone who likes stories about different cultures and overcoming difficult obstacles. This book is available in print at the library or as an e-book on Overdrive
. There is also a movie based on the book, Life, Above All
, that is available at the library as well. If you enjoy this book, check out the sequel, Chanda's Wars