From the Publisher
Publishers Weekly, May 14, 2012:
"The setting and cast emerge as real standouts, especially Clare’s friend Memory, who tells her, 'Even the mourner must stop and laugh with the moon.' As this memorable heroine contends with loss, Burg balances tragedy with hope and resilience."
Starred Review, School Library Journal, June 2012:
“This lyrical story will be consumed in one long sitting, but the characters will stay with readers for a very long time.”
The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, September 2012:
"The novel is strongest in its presentation of loss and mourning; Clare’s emotions in dealing with her mother are raw, and the additional loss of Innocent brings many of those feelings back."
With keen insight into culture and the psychology of grief, Burg (A Thousand Never Evers) crafts an atmospheric novel about 13-year-old Clare and her doctor father’s nine-week trip to Malawi. Clare chafes at leaving her friends (and technology) behind, and she is still struggling with her mother’s death eight months earlier. However, she is soon swept into a challenging but restorative adventure. When the headmaster at Clare’s school recruits her to teach English to 176 students, she finds new strength and confronts the difficulties, like a lack of books and other resources; her friends help her find ingenious solutions such as shaping letters of the alphabet from baked mud. Imaginary and dream scenes between Clare and her mother are uneven: though they sometimes ground the relationship and emotions, they can also interrupt the pacing of the narrative. The setting and cast emerge as real standouts, especially Clare’s friend Memory, who tells her, “Even the mourner must stop and laugh with the moon.” As this memorable heroine contends with loss, Burg balances tragedy with hope and resilience. Ages 8–12. Agent: Andrea Cascardi, Transatlantic Literary Agency. (June)
Children's Literature - Cynthia Levinson
Thirteen-year-old Clare Silver's mother has recently died. And, now her father, a doctor, has transported her, against her will, to Malawi, where he worked as a young man and where he is conducting medical research. Clare is so angry, about both her mother's death and her two-month exile from her suburban home and friends, including a possible boyfriend, in Brookline, Massachusetts, that she refuses to speak to him. Furthermore, when they arrive in Africa, Clare must learn to manage with mosquito netting, little hot water, and screaming monkeys. At Mzanga Full Primary School, a rugged environment with practically no materialsnot even chairs, in some casesand with a dangerous bully, she soon enough makes friends, particularly with Memory, who has lost both of her parents. With Memory's help and that of a mother-figure housekeeper whom her father employs, Clare becomes accustomed to the pasty food, to foregoing lunch, and to chickens meandering into the classroom. A school outing and the death of a baby, however, nearly undo her until she learns to take responsibility not only for herself but also for her schoolmates. Readers will learn a great deal about Malawi, where the author worked, from a sympathetic and positive perspective. In addition, although the setting is foreign, the characters are fully drawn and vividly believable. The plot is engaging and even suspenseful. And, the layered text offers multiple subtle themes for readers to discuss and absorb. This is a fine and meaningful book. Reviewer: Cynthia Levinson
School Library Journal
Gr 4–8—Thirteen-year-old Clare Silver is still wrapped up in her own personal tragedy when her father, a medical doctor, whisks her along on his journey to Africa as part of a two-month visit to work in a local clinic. While he relishes the smell of jasmine after a soaking rain, sleeping under a mosquito net, and reuniting with old friends, the only thing Clare sees in Malawi is isolation and loneliness. With no cell-phone reception and a new home that doesn't even keep out the rain, let alone local wildlife, Clare can't even text her friends to tell them how she feels like a prisoner in this strange land. Her first day at the Mzanga Full Primary School opens her eyes to daily life in this small country, and her new friend, Memory, helps her bridge the cultural gap. In this new world that first seemed devoid of all necessities like computers, cell phones, and department stores, Clare begins to learn the value of friendship and the wonderment of finding your place in the world. This is a heartfelt story of love and loss told through the eyes of an American girl who learns about true friendship and heartbreak at a school where students have few supplies but an abundance of understanding. When tragedy strikes again, it's Clare's African friends who help her find comfort and strength when sometimes all one can hope for is to laugh with the moon. This lyrical story will be consumed in one long sitting, but the characters will stay with readers for a very long time.—Cheryl Ashton, Amherst Public Library, OH
Melding the colors of heartache and loss with painterly strokes, Burg creates a vivid work of art about a girl grieving for her recently deceased mother against a Third World backdrop. Clare is not speaking to her father. She has vowed never to speak to him again. Which could be tough, since the pair just touched down in Malawi. There, Clare finds herself struck by the contrast between American wealth and the relatively bare-bones existence of her new friends. Drowning in mourning and enraged at the emptiness of grief, Clare is a hurricane of early-adolescent emotions. Her anger toward her father crackles like lightning in the treetops. She finds purpose, though, in teaching English to the younger children, which leads her out of grief. Burg's imagery shimmers. "The girl talks to her mother in a language that sounds like fireworks, full of bursts and pops. She holds her hand over her mouth giggling.... She probably has so many minutes with her mother, she can't even count them." Her realization of the setting and appreciation for the Malawian people are so successful that they compensate for Clare's wallowing, which sometimes feels contrived. Ultimately, Burg's lyrical prose will make readers think about the common ground among peoples, despite inevitable disparities. (Fiction. 9-12)
Read an Excerpt
I press my nose against the airplane window and breathe faster, faster, more, more, more. I try to erase what's outside. In my mind, I beg for someone to help me. Help me! I want to yell. But you know, who would? Who could? Only Dad, of course, and flying here was his idea in the first place.
Branches slam against each other in the wind and rain. The jungle is so crowded. How can anything possibly grow in it? My eyes trace a thick vine twisting around and around an enormous tree trunk, desperately trying to choke the life out of it. Who will win: the vine or the tree? I don't like that vine. I don't like it one bit.
I breathe even faster, and by the time the plane jolts to a stop, I've covered the window with mist. Now I can't see outside, can't see where I'm going to be stuck for the next nine weeks. All I can do is watch my father pack up the medical report that he's been poring over ever since we switched planes a few hours ago. "Come on, honey," he says, as if he hasn't just torn me away from home, as if he hasn't made me leave all my friends and memories behind.
He tucks the medical report neatly inside his army-green traveler's backpack. I unbuckle my seat belt and stand. My heart thumps, quick and light, quick and light, never touching down for a full beat. While Dad checks the messages on his cell phone, there's a creak. Then a loud, long roar. I crouch and wipe off the window to look for the airplane racing down the runway, about to escape. But I don't see another plane, only forest-green, olive-green, green-gold. And rain, rain, rain.
A blast of heat fills the cabin. The month of January really is summer in this place. Under my sweater and jeans, tiny beads of sweat bubble up all over my skin. I take off my cotton scarf and stuff it into my backpack while that strange roar grows louder.
A dark-skinned woman stands in the row of seats in front of me, her head wrapped in a bright red cloth. A tall, thin girl stands beside her, a younger version of the woman. The girl talks to her mother in a language that sounds like fireworks, full of bursts and pops. She holds her hand over her mouth, giggling. I try not to look at her. She probably has so many minutes with her mother she can't even count them.
I grab the gold heart pendant hanging around my neck, feel the dent that I chewed right into the middle of it. Mom made it for me a few years ago when she took a jewelry design class at the center for adult education. Dad slips his phone into his pocket and gives me a squeeze around my shoulders. I pull away.
"How long are you going to keep up the silent treatment?" he asks.
I check my watch and adjust for the eight-hour time difference between Boston and here. I haven't spoken for the entire trip, not even during the layover in South Africa. That would put me at a grand total of twenty-six hours and thirty-two minutes, never mind that I was sleeping for at least eighteen of them. It's so impressivemaybe even a world recordthat I actually consider sharing the news.
But I don't, because that would break my promise, and in my book, promises are not meant to be broken. Not promises fathers make to daughters, like "I'll take care of you" and "I always have your best interest at heart." And not promises daughters make to fathers, like "I will never speak to you until you take me back where I belong."
I follow Dad down the cramped aisle. The rumble grows louder and my breath snakes up my throat. Soon I'm at the mouth of the plane. I realize it's the crazy storm outside that's making such a racket. Cold raindrops prick me like needles. There isn't even a tunnel connecting the airplane to the airport.
A flight attendant stands by the cockpit. "Welcome to Malawi," she says, and smiles. I know that I should smile back. It's the right thing to do. But I can't. I doubt I'll ever smile again.
A bolt of lightning strikes the treetops. I'm thinking it's pretty dumb to stand on a metal staircase in an African storm. We could be killed.
But my father? He's another story! He inhales the slate-gray sky like it's full of jasmine, like the smell of this place is a total thrill. Then he clomps down the metal staircase to the runway. I mean, I'm sure he's clomping, but I can't hear his footsteps; I can't even see him very well, because the storm is that vicious, that wild.
When he reaches the runway, he turns to make sure that I'm following. But I'm not. I'm not going.
"Have a lovely day," the flight attendant says. "Thank you for flying Air Malawi."
Rain screams down from the sky. Lightning too. Here I am, five years old again, standing on the edge of the high diving board. I suck in my breath and squeeze my eyes shut. One, two, three! Then I do it. I run down the steps and wait to be taken to my deathtoo young and too suddenlyjust like my mom.