This Thing Called the Future

Overview

Khosi lives with her beloved grandmother Gogo, her little sister Zi, and her weekend mother in a matchbox house on the outskirts of Pietermaritzburg, South Africa. In that shantytown, it seems like somebody is dying all the time. Billboards everywhere warn of the disease of the day. Her Gogo goes to a traditional healer when there is trouble, but her mother, who works in another city and is wasting away before their eyes, refuses even to go to the doctor. She is afraid and Khosi doesn't know what it is that makes...

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This Thing Called the Future

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Overview

Khosi lives with her beloved grandmother Gogo, her little sister Zi, and her weekend mother in a matchbox house on the outskirts of Pietermaritzburg, South Africa. In that shantytown, it seems like somebody is dying all the time. Billboards everywhere warn of the disease of the day. Her Gogo goes to a traditional healer when there is trouble, but her mother, who works in another city and is wasting away before their eyes, refuses even to go to the doctor. She is afraid and Khosi doesn't know what it is that makes the blood come up from her choking lungs. Witchcraft? A curse? AIDS? Can Khosi take her to the doctor? Gogo asks. No, says Mama, Khosi must stay in school. Only education will save Khosi and Zi from the poverty and ignorance of the old Zulu ways.

School, though, is not bad. There is a boy her own age there, Little Man Ncobo, and she loves the color of his skin, so much darker than her own, and his blue-black lips, but he mocks her when a witch's curse, her mother's wasting sorrow, and a neighbor's accusations send her and Gogo scrambling off to the sangoma's hut in search of a healing potion.

J.L. Powers holds an MA in African history from State University of New York-Albany and Stanford University. She won a Fulbright-Hays grant to study Zulu in South Africa, and served as a visiting scholar in Stanford's African Studies Department. This is her second novel for young adults.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
For 14-year-old Khosi, life has become far more complicated than she would like. She lives with her mother, her grandmother "Gogo," and her younger sister, Zi, in a Zulu shantytown in South Africa, where conditions are dismal: no one has money, and there are weekly funerals for AIDS victims. On top of everything, a neighbor accuses her mother (who becomes violently ill) of stealing, and Khosi's developing body is drawing unwanted attention, particularly from a drunken neighborhood man who attacks Khosi on multiple occasions. Despite her circumstances, Khosi is resilient; her passions are science and her unshakable connection to the spirit world. "Science is important," she reflects. "So are the old ways. But because they are so stubborn, it makes it really difficult to navigate a path between them to be my own person." Through the eyes of a conflicted teenager, Powers (The Confessional) composes a compelling, often harrowing portrait of a struggling country, where old beliefs and rituals still have power, but can't erase the problems of the present. Readers will be fully invested in Khosi's efforts to secure a better future. Ages 13–17. (May)
From the Publisher

"This novel offers an intimate glimpse into the challenges of being a contemporary teenage girl in South Africa."—Chicago Tribune

"This novel takes a loving, clear-eyed look at the clash of old and new through the experience of one appealing teenager… A compassionate and moving window on a harsh world." —Kirkus Reviews

"… a compelling, often harrowing portrait of a struggling country, where old beliefs and rituals still have power, but can’t erase the problems of the present. Readers will be fully invested in Khosi’s efforts to secure a better future." —Publishers Weekly

"This is a fascinating glimpse into a worldview that, while foreign to many readers, is made plausible through Khosi’s practical and conflicted perspective."—The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books, starred review

"Despite pervasive HIV and the specter of rape, as well as the restrictions on girls’ freedom that are her society’s only response, Khosi manages to find her power, refuse to be a victim, and carve out a future for herself that embraces both the modern and the traditional."—The Horn Book Magazine

"This is a powerfully gripping, eye-opening novel that doesn’t pull any punches, and readers will long remember Khosi and the trials and tribulations facing South Africans as they venture forth into the modern world while desperately holding onto their heritage."—School Library Journal

"…the tense story builds skillfully to an anguished revelation readers will want to discuss."—Booklist

"Magic and science are woven together in this often stark story of AIDS and unrelenting poverty."—VOYA

"This is a poignant story about a young woman struggling to ensure her family's security although many factors are working against them."—Children's Literature

"Powers seamlessly combines contemporary realism with the supernatural in this powerful and singular novel."—Timesunion.com

"Khosi’s story is not only an everywoman story of a girl growing up, it is an allegory of all the many challenges facing South Africa and its people.
"—OutSmart Magazine

"Bright and responsible, Khosi is growing up with her mother, grandmother and younger sister in a community devastated by AIDS and gangsters. She's torn between traditional beliefs and modern ambitions—and Powers, writing her second novel, makes it clear that Khosi's circumstances permit no facile answers."—Stanford Alumni Magazine

"This Thing Called the Future may deal with bleak topics, but there is hope and triumph, too. As Khosi looks toward that mysterious thing called the future, she believes she can make hers beautiful despite the sorrow around her."—Christian Science Monitor

"Khosi's heartbreaking and redemptive coming-of-age story compels us to face the demons within cultural superstitions and choose a future that can be changed."—Ann Angel, author of Janis Joplin:Rise Up Singing

"In a literary landscape cluttered with the imagined powers of the paranormal, This Thing Called the Future introduces us to the reality that supernatural strength exists here and now. Gripping, honest, and eye-opening, this book will change the way you see the world."—Emily Wing Smith, author of The Way He Lived and Back When You Were Easier to Love

"J.L. Powers takes the challenges and sorrows of contemporary South Africa and renders them powerfully immediate in the character of Khosi, a girl negotiating coming of age in her post-apartheid, AIDS-ravaged country. Provocative, unvarnished, loving." —Sarah Ellis, author of Odd Man Out and The Several Lives of Orphan Jack

"Basing her story on detailed research, Powers gets into the shoes of her imagined protagonist and sensitively explores her perceptions. This is a wonderful book with which to think about contemporary South Africa - about the trials of everyday life, about dreams, witchcraft, physical danger, adolescent love, and not least about ambition."—William Beinart, author of Twentieth-Century South Africa

"A fascinating look at life in a shanty town in present day South Africa."—The 4:00 Book Hook

"…the research J.L. Powers did is evident in every detail.This book offers a daunting, sincere, and profoundly human view of what’s happening on the other side of the globe." —Teen Voices

Children's Literature - Jean Boreen
At fourteen, Khosi is becoming more aware of the joys and tensions of her life in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa. Even though her mother constantly tells her that the world is wide open to her and that education is the key out of the poverty in which they live, Khosi is conflicted. Looking around her world, she tries to reconcile her education with the religious and cultural attitudes and superstitions of her community. In addition, Khosi's mother has been very ill. Has she been cursed by an angry neighbor, or could she have AIDS? This is a poignant story about a young woman struggling to ensure her family's security although many factors are working against them. It is not quite as strong or as accessible as Stratten's Chanda's Secret, but it still a solid book for teen readers, most likely girls who are looking for a strong female main character. Reviewer: Jean Boreen, Ph.D.
VOYA - Susan Allen
Magic and science are woven together in this often stark story of AIDS and unrelenting poverty. Khosi, a fourteen-year-old South African girl, matures as the result of the strife she faces on a daily basis. She lives with her younger sister and grandmother while her mother works far away as a teacher. More than once during the day, the bells toll to announce another death, most often from AIDS. Walking to the store is treacherous because of a drunken man trying to grab and rape her; virgins are prime targets because they do not carry the disease. Khosi is frightened of many things but especially what is making her mother cough up blood. Her education and love of science tells her that her mother should see a modern doctor. Her culturally-engrained beliefs in witches, curses, dreams, and a traditional Zulu healer vie with this view. This is realistic fiction with a twist of the supernatural. Khosi is grounded in Zulu legends and folk traditions, making the intervention of her ancestors through her dreams believable. The tensions between respecting tradition and honoring one's ancestors and listening to the more modern world and its teachings keep the reader engrossed throughout the novel. Descriptive writing paints the picture of abject poverty, rampant disease, and little hope for a future; yet the reader feels that Khosi will have that elusive future. The scenes of the drunken man attempting capture Khosi to rape her are graphic, and perhaps not for the youngest middle school students. Reviewer: Susan Allen
School Library Journal
Gr 9 Up—Khosi, a 14-year-old living in post-apartheid South Africa, is torn between her grandmother's superstitious beliefs in witches and sangomas (healers) and her mother's Western belief in science and medicine. She lives in a shantytown in Pietermaritzburg with Gogo and her younger sister while their mother works in another city and comes home on the weekends. At school, Khosi earns top marks in biology, but she wonders how she can balance science, Zulu ancestral beliefs, and religion (the family is Catholic) when they seem to contradict one another. Everywhere Khosi looks, from billboards to the frequent local funerals, she sees evidence of "the disease of these days" (HIV/AIDS). When her mother returns home ill, Khosi is torn between shame brought upon her family and trying to figure out what is wrong with her. Has the neighbor put a curse on her family? Does her mother have the disease, and, if so, does that mean Khosi's distant father gave it to her? Khosi's dreams torment her and seem to turn into reality, causing her to question her possible future as a sangoma. The stark reality facing South Africa's population is delineated with heart-wrenching honesty. This is a powerfully gripping, eye-opening novel that doesn't pull any punches, and readers will long remember Khosi and the trials and tribulations facing South Africans as they venture forth into the modern world while desperately holding onto their heritage.—Michele Shaw, Quail Run Elementary School, San Ramon, CA
Kirkus Reviews
Set in an impoverished South African shantytown where post-Apartheid freedom is overshadowed by rampant AIDS and intractable poverty, this novel takes a loving, clear-eyed look at the clash of old and new through the experience of one appealing teenager. Khosi, 14, lives in an all-female household with her sister, Zi, and frail grandmother, Gogo, subsisting on Gogo's pension and Mama's salary as a teacher in the city (she comes home on weekends). Everyone in Khosi's world is poor. Where the struggle to survive is all-consuming, family loyalty trumps community. Clashes between Zulu customs and contemporary values further erode cultural ties and divide families. A scholarship student, Khosi loves science, but getting to school means dodging gangs and rapists hunting AIDS-free virgins. After a witch curses Khosi's family and Mama falls ill, Khosi and Gogo seek aid from a traditional Zulu healer, which Mama dismisses as superstition while fear and poverty keep her from accessing modern medicine. As stresses mount, Khosi's ancestors speak, offering her guidance. Supported by them, her family and classmate Little Man, Khosi vows to create a better future by synthesizing old and new ways, yet the obstacles she faces—some inherited, others newly acquired—are staggering. A compassionate and moving window on a harsh world. (glossary of Zulu words) (Paranormal fiction. 12 & up)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781933693958
  • Publisher: Cinco Puntos Press
  • Publication date: 4/1/2011
  • Pages: 208
  • Age range: 13 - 16 Years
  • Lexile: 710L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 6.30 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

J.L. Powers is an author, scholar, book reviewer and publsiher. Powers holds master’s degrees in African History from State University of New York-Albany and Stanford University, won a Fulbright-Hayes to study Zulu in South Africa, and served as a visiting scholar in Stanford’s African Studies Department in 2008 and 2009. She lives in San Francisco's Bay area and teaches writing at Skyline Community College.

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