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No Turning Back: A Novel of South Africa

No Turning Back: A Novel of South Africa

4.7 3
by Beverley Naidoo

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Escaping from his violent stepfather, twelve-year-old Sipho heads for Johannesburg, where he has heard that gangs of children live on the streets. Surviving hunger and bitter-cold winter nights is hard'but learning when to trust in the ‘new' South Africa proves even more difficult.

No Turning Back appeared on the short list of both the Guardian and


Escaping from his violent stepfather, twelve-year-old Sipho heads for Johannesburg, where he has heard that gangs of children live on the streets. Surviving hunger and bitter-cold winter nights is hard'but learning when to trust in the ‘new' South Africa proves even more difficult.

No Turning Back appeared on the short list of both the Guardian and Smarties book prizes on the United Kingdom.

Editorial Reviews

San Francisco Examiner-Chronicle
Gritty but ultimately uplifting.
Times Educational Supplement
. . . A realistic and moving story. .
Written with valuable insight, gritty but optimistic, this is a totally believable, absorbing read. .
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
In a starred review, PW called this powerful novel "a rare and moving glimpse" into the life of a homeless boy in the suburbs of Johannesburg. Ages 8-12. (Jan.)
Children's Literature - Stephen Hoffius
Twelve year-old Sopho flees his stepfather's beatings to live on the streets of Johannesburg. Adopted by a gang of other runaway boys, he pushes grocery carts for money to buy food and video games. At night the gang sleeps in chilly fields or backyards. Life is frightening-the gang is thrown into police vans and dumped into freezing water. Sipo is chased by a man with a broken bottle and sleeps in a garbage can-but Sipho rarely turns bitter or angry. Despite its bleak setting, the book offers hope for Sipho-a shopkeeper and his daughter provide a temporary home, a shelter welcomes him, and he had fond memories of his mother-and hope for south Africa with the upcoming election of Nelson Mandela. Peppered with words of Afrikaans and Zulu, the book introduces readers to the harsh world of runaway boys without overwhelming them with the horrors of the street. Glossary. 1999 (orig.
School Library Journal
Gr 4-8Sipho's idyllic country life ends when his nurturing grandmother dies and he returns to his mother's shack. Shocked to discover he now has a stepfather who is brutal and abusive, Sipho lasts for six months before running away to the mean streets of Johannesburg. He is taken in by a rather tame gang and taught the ropes of survival by the good-natured Jabu. Money for food and arcade games is almost painlessly earned by helping to carry groceries. Joseph, Jabu's opposite, tries to steer Sipho to ruin by offering him iglue (glue) to sniff. After a traumatic episode with a vigilante group, he is rescued from the harsh streets by a white shop owner who grudgingly gives him shelter in response to the pleas of his daughter. Unfortunately, the man's malevolent son chases the boy away. Sipho finds Jabu and salvation at a shelter that seems too good to be true. An understanding nun takes him home to visit his mother and new baby sister. With the stepfather conveniently offstage (looking for a job), it appears that all will be well for this family. Naidoo's latest offering will disappoint those expecting a convincing look at the street life of homeless South African children. Her palette seems limited to black and white characterizations (steadfast Jabu, glue-sniffing Joseph, drunken stepfather, etc.). Changes are driven by plot and are not true to character. Jabu seems content with his street lifeso why would he suddenly decide to sign on at the shelter? For a more convincing look at the strife and turmoil in South Africa, choose Hazel Rochman's Somehow Tenderness Survives (HarperCollins, 1988).Marilyn Payne Phillips, University City Public Library, MO
Kirkus Reviews
The bland, uninvolving story of Sipho, 12, who flees his drunken stepfather's brutality to live on the streets of Johannesburg. Sipho finds a gang of street children but is with them barely a week before Danny Lewis, a white shopkeeper, offers him steady work, paid for with new clothes, regular meals, and a room of his own. What Lewis does not offer is respect; that and his sullen son's antagonism soon drive Sipho back to the streets for one night, after which he settles in with his friend, Jabu, in a children's shelter. Not only is Sipho always able to find help with relative ease, but he encounters more discomfort than danger on the street: A botched experiment with glue-sniffing leaves him feeling ill; a midnight roundup by disguised police ends with a cold but anticlimactic dunk in a lake; food, money, even soap and water are not difficult to come by; incidents of violence and predation are implied, anecdotal, or offstage. The plot doesn't develop but proceeds until it stops, trailing off after a vaguely described peace rally and a brief visit home.

Naidoo, with the acknowledged help of a corps of contemporary observers, effectively captures the mixed feelings with which South Africans are viewing the changes rapidly taking place in their country, but the story lacks the fire that made Journey to Jo'burg (1985) so compelling.

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
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File size:
590 KB
Age Range:
8 - 12 Years

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One


Tiptoeing toward his mother's bed, Sipho touched the table to steady himself. He held his breath and glanced at the sleeping figures. Two gray shapes that could stir at any time. A small square of plastic above the bed let in the dim early-morning light. His mother lay near the edge, one band resting over her rounded stomach. His stepfather was snoring heavily, a giant of a man stretched across the bed. Each snore shook the stillness of the tiny room. But it was a sigh from his mother that almost made him drop her bag and leave emptyhanded. Then his fingers touched the coins. Grasping them, he turned and silently fled. Past the chipped wooden table, the kerosene stove and the pot of cold porridge from the night before. Past his mattress on the floor with the crumpled blanket. Past the orange-crate cupboard and out the door. He eased it shut, praying that the snoring would cover the sound of creaking hinges.

And then he ran. Keeping his head down, he weaved his way through the patchwork of shacks in the smoky half-light, hoping against hope that no one would call his name. Thin chinks of yellow light and the smell of kerosene lamps behind the sheets of iron and wooden planks showed that people were beginning to rise. Ma and "him" would have been getting up by now if they had had work to go to. Sipho's heart was thumping against his chest. It had been screwed up for the last few days, like the rest of his insides, as tight as a fist. But now it was going wild like the tall of a puppy just let out of a cage. He would have to get it under control before he got to the taxi rank.

Comingout from the shacks, he sprinted past the shop boarded up overnight. He could be seen more easily here. The quickest way would be to cut across by the men's hostel. But that was dangerous. Bullets whistling between the great grim building and the houses nearby had brought death to many people. No one knew when the fighting would start again, and Ma had forbidden him to go near the place.

"That bullet won't stop to ask who you are," Ma had said. But why should he listen to what Ma said anymore? Still, it was safer to go the long way around, past his school.

Squares of misty light from houses on each side lit the way, and high above him, electric strips shone dully through the smoke. There were other people on the road already, most walking in the same direction. Sipho slowed down to a half-jog, half-walk. He might draw too much attention to himself if he ran. Passing the crisscross wire fencing around the school, he shifted to the other side of the road. Even though the gate was locked, he could imagine the head teacher suddenly appearing from the low redbrick building and wanting to know where be was going.

The taxi rank was already humming with theearly-morning crowd milling alongside a line of minibuses. Pavement sellers had already set up their stalls. Some people in the lines carried bags and boxes, perhaps of things to sell in town themselves. With so many taxis, he had to make sure he got in the right one. Glancing briefly at a row of faces, he noticed a woman looking at him. She had a baby on her back and seemed about Ma's age. No, he wouldn't ask her. Instead he moved away and asked a young man which was the right line for Hillbrow.

"Take any one for Jo'burg city center. It's that side." The man pointed to where the crowd was thicker.

Slipping behind a line of people, Sipho was pleased he had managed to ask the question so smoothly. If only everyone would move along quickly so he could get inside the taxi. He kept his eyes trained in the direction of the school. What if Ma had waked up? She wouldn't feel up to coming after him, but she would wake his stepfather. If Ma sent him out looking for Sipho, be would be raging mad -- even without a drink. Sipho could just imagine him storming through the crowd, shouting Sipho's name, demanding to know if anyone had seen a small boy age twelve . . . a boy with big ears, the kind you can get hold of.

Sipho shivered, pulled his woolen cap down lower and clasped his arms around him. It was cold. He should have put on two sweaters. But he hadn't really been thinking clearly for the last few days. Ever since the last beating. He didn't know whether to forgive Ma or not, If she didn't want him nearly killed, why did she complain so much about him to his stepfather? She knew his terrible temper. And all because Sipho had come in late. He had explained it was an accident. When his friend Gordon had met him outside the shop and asked if he wanted to watch TV, he had been happy. He had only intended to go for a short while. Gordon's mother was out working late, and no one reminded him about the time. One movie had led to another. Sipho had quite forgotten Ma waiting for him. Ma lying on the bed on her own in the shack because his stepfather stayed out drinking. Ma crying often. Yes, Ma had definitely become more tense since she had been forced to give up her job because of the baby. And Ma changing, changed everything.

The line moved in fits and starts. He willed it to hurry up. Shesha! Shesha! Shifting his gaze between the taxis and the road by the school, Sipho watched anxiously as each one filled up and veered off.

Meet the Author

Beverley Naidoo grew up in South Africa under apartheid. She says: "As a white child I didn't question the terrible injustices until I was a student. I decided then that unless I joined the resistance, I was part of the problem." Beverley Naidoo was detained without trial when she was twenty-one and later went into exile in Britain, where she has since lived.

Her first children's book, Journey to Jo'burg, was banned in South Africa until 1991, but it was an eye-opener for thousands of readers worldwide. Her characters in Chain of Fire, No Turning Back, and Out of Bounds face extraordinary challenges in a society she describes as "more dangerous than any fantasy." She has won many awards for her writing, including the Carnegie Medal, the Jane Addams Book Award, and the American Library Association Best Book for Young Adults for The Other Side of Truth, about two refugee children smuggled to London who are also featured in Web of Lies.

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No Turning Back: A Novel of South Africa 4.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Tiffany Harker More than 1 year ago
a boy running away from home. goses off to find shelter. but comes home.