Jennifer Wardrip's Reviews > Burn My Heart

Burn My Heart by Beverley Naidoo
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Reviewed by Natalie Tsang for TeensReadToo.com

Eleven-year-old Matthew Grayson and thirteen-year-old Mugo are more than best friends. Together, they have adventures in the Kenyan bush with Matt's trusty dog, Duma. Kenya in the 1950s seems like the perfect playground.

There are elephants, impalas, and hyenas that live in the acres and acres of "Grayson Country," land that Matt's grandfather bought from the British government. Mugo and his family are Kikuyu, native Kenyans who have lived on the land for as long as anyone remembers, and now work as servants. While Matt and Mugo's friendship crosses social, economic, cultural, and racial barriers, the political atmosphere pushes it to a breaking point as their differences increase in number and severity.

In BURN MY HEART, Beverley Naidoo crafts a story about how fear can destabilize the strongest friendships. The escalating conflict between British settlers and a group Kikuyu call the Mau Mau is told through the tight lens of the two boys.

While she voices both political sides and reveals problems of both the British settlers' treatment of the Kikuyu and the Mau Mau's destructive and coercive methods for unity, readers will be as torn as Matthew and Mugo in choosing sides. Matt's friend, Lance Smithers, is charismatic and fun, but, like his father, views the Kikuyu as sub-human. Likewise, Mugo watches as people he admires and respects join the Mau Mau.

This novel transcends its historical context. Naidoo creates characters that are faced with difficult choices, but it never seems like they are examples in a social science lesson. Readers with find her characters at times frustrating, but it is satisfying to experience how they mature and change. The author is particularly successful in not only showing how hard it is to make the right decision, but also the difficulties of determining what is right and wrong.

BURN MY HEART is a compelling novel. Five stars.
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