(Cover picture courtesy of this wiki.)
Nhamo’s mother is dead, and her father is gone. When she learns that she must marry a cruel man with three wives—before her twelfth birthday—she runs away. Alone on the river, in a stolen boat, Nhamo is swept into the uncharted heart of a great lake. There, she battles drowning, starvation, and wild animals, and comes to know Africa’s mystical, luminous spirits. Nhamo’s journey will transport readers into her world, in a story that is poignant, humorous, dramatic and extraordinary.
This isn’t actually the first time I’ve read this book but I hadn’t read it for several years so when I saw it in the library the other day I decided to give it another try. I remember loving it, but how was it this time around? Well, it was okay. It’s nothing really all that special, despite the fact it was a Newberry honor book in 1997.
It’s an interesting look at life in remote Africa that’s both interesting and unsettling. On one hand, it was fascinating to see the spirituality of a different culture. On the other hand, there were definitely some practices like the ngozi marriage Nhamo was going to be forced into that really are terrible. Nancy Farmer manages to balance out these ‘good’ and ‘bad’ elements in a non-biased way that tells a good story. I obviously can’t speak as to how accurate things are portrayed but Nancy Farmer included a bibliography and some further explanations for things she alluded to in the book.
Nhamo is an excellent character. Sometimes she’s surprisingly mature, surviving out in the bush on her own for months at a time. Other times she’s very immature, throwing temper tantrums that you would expect from pretty much any preteen girl. This is definitely aimed at more of a middle grade audience so I think readers of this age will be able to identify well with Nhamo, despite the cultural differences.
The only thing that stops this book from being a great book is the pacing. When things are interesting Nancy Farmer’s pacing was way too fast. And when things were more boring the pacing became uneven and the plot slowed down to a crawl. It reflects the actual time Nhamo spends in certain places but it doesn’t make for the most interesting read, believe me.
So was A Girl Named Disaster as good as I remember? No, but it was still a pretty good story and if you have a preteen or young teen that likes to read I’d definitely recommend this book.
I give this book 3.5/5 stars.