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This issue’s cover illustration is from One by Sarah Crossan. Thanks to Bloomsbury Children’s Books for their help with this September cover.
Set in the strife-ridden central African highlands the story unfolds through the eyes of three characters. All are very different and all have been torn from their families by the terror and corruption around them.
Imara is the witch-child held by the Black Mamba, a local warlord. She has no memory of her past and she knows that her survival depends on maintaining her magical hold over Black Mamba and listening to the devil inside her. Bobo, the son of a forest warden whose job is to protect the mountain gorillas, goes to find out what has happened when one of them does not return, and he ends up with the war gang at the mines, in gorilla territory. The final character is a baby gorilla that we come to know as Kitwana. He is taken from his troop by the Mambas as a gift for a western woman known only as the White Lioness.
This is not just an animal story or a thrilling adventure, although it is both those. It is also a no-holds barred story of the chaos that seems to rule central Africa. We see war gangs wandering the country killing, apparently at random. Our eyes are opened to how children become child soldiers and how cheaply their lives are held. The obstacles to change that corruption presents are demonstrated by the local police commissioner. Meanwhile the economic power of the west is all pervading: coltan (a dark ore used in electrical devices, especially mobile phones) and the wealth and power it can bring are the focus of the warlord and the White Lioness, demonstrating that money talks, even when it comes to stealing wild animals.
Lewis handles all this magnificently and reveals the characters as the story moves along. She paints a horrifyingly realistic life for young people in the region without sensationalising it. Even more skilfully, she brings the book to a resolution that is happy and believable without being mawkish.
A recommended read for wildlife lovers, would be travellers, and anyone who wants to engage with lives different from their own.