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A Girl Called Problem

3.95  ·  Rating details ·  277 Ratings  ·  77 Reviews
Thirteen-year-old Shida, whose name means “problem” in Swahili, certainly has a lot of problems in her life — her father is dead, her depressed mother is rumored to be a witch, and everyone in her rural Tanzanian village expects her to marry rather than pursue her dream of becoming a healer. So when the village’s elders make a controversial decision to move their people to ...more
Paperback, 256 pages
Published April 18th 2013 by Eerdmans Books for Young Readers
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Feb 10, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Who says that mystery novels for kids all have to include the same tropes and settings? I tell you, half the time when a kid comes up to a reference desk asking for a mystery they think what they want is the standard white kids in suburbia model perfected by Encyclopedia Brown and his ilk. They're wrong. What they really want is great writing and a good mystery with a twist they don't see coming. So I will hereby give grand kudos and heaping helpfuls of praise to the librarian/bookseller/parent ...more
Jan 22, 2013 rated it it was amazing
My sister-in-law's critically acclaimed YA debut! With a firecracker protagonist and a richly detailed and vivid Tanzanian setting, this is a great book selection for young readers interested in strong female characters and other cultures. My nine-year-old niece couldn't put it down, so that's the best review I can give!
Barb Middleton
Sep 20, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: historical
In college I had to read the adult book, "Things Fall Apart," by Chinua Achebe that tackled the theme of modern changes clashing with traditional Nigerian customs. The main character lost his high status within the traditional culture as the villagers embraced western ideas. His identity was so dependent on traditions that he "fell apart" as the world he knew changed around him. "A Girl Called Problem," also deals with changes in traditions except the villagers are not influenced by western cult ...more
Sarah Williams
Oct 14, 2013 rated it it was amazing
"A Girl Called Problem" by Katie Quirk is a story about a young girl's bravery and perseverance. This story takes place in 1967 in Tanzania. Throughout the story, an entire village is moving to another location in order to create a 'ujamaa' village. At this time, President Nyerere had just been elected in 1964 and it was his dream that everyone moved to a village where they all shared farm work, a school, and a medical clinic. Ujamaa means familyhood in Swahili. This was a drastic change from th ...more
May 14, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: children
Colonialism was a pretty bad deal for the entire continent of Africa, but all of the problems didn't end when the European powers gave up direct control of their former colonies. A Girl Called Problem is set in Tanzania in the 1960s, as the new nation was trying to find its feet. Shida, the 13-year-old eponymous protagonist of the book (her name is the word for "problem" in Swahili), is in a similar position. Her entire settlement has relocated to one of President Julius Nyerere's communal ujama ...more
Mar 11, 2013 rated it really liked it
I got this book free from LibraryThing's Early Reviewers program.

Set in a newly independent Tanzania in the early 1960s, this is an excellent coming-of-age story that will interest middle-school readers. Tanzania became a socialist republic under their first president, Julius Nyrere (something I knew already, because I did a report on the country back in the sixth grade) and he encouraged the people to try collective farming. Thus, young Shida's tribal village packed up and moved to another vill
Dina Tanners
May 29, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I was delighted at the high quality of this book--a well-developed plot, great character development, and great details made this book hard to put down. I learned a lot about the history and culture of some of the people in Tanzania after independence in the 1960s and some of the goals of its first president Nyerere.

But mainly the book shows the perseverance of a young girl who seems to have little going for her except the drive to learn and help others.

The book develops at a "normal" pace and
Paula Soper
Nov 03, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2016, ya
I love this book. It shows a girl and her tribe as they face the difficulties of pride in the tribe versus pride as Tanzanians. It shows the harmony that can exist between herbs and western medicine.

The book was well-written and the characters were rounded and unique.

Drugs - No (alcohol?)
Sex - No
R&R - Tanzania!
Violence - No
Language - Just English with a bit of Swahili
Jun 26, 2013 rated it really liked it
This book was so so so good. I felt like the first chapter was slow but I LOVED it! I read most of it on a field trip for a camp, and I was in the van, I started tearing up looking like a weirdo because it was so touching!
Edward Sullivan
A thirteen-year-old comes of age in a rural village in a newly independent Tanzania in the early 1960s.
Jan 08, 2017 added it
I enjoyed the Swahili & Tanzanian references.
Jun 03, 2013 rated it really liked it
This was a great read! Enough detail to get a sense of location and culture, not too much to cross over into "adult" fiction.

I enjoyed my time with Shida and Grace.
Danielle M
Mar 02, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 356-8-15
This book was better than I thought it would be and I enjoyed going on a journey with the characters. I chose to read this book because it addressed African cultures and folklore. I have never read a book that addresses these things. I would recommend this book to students have ever moved to a new place, students who are trying to find their identity, those who like African culture, or those who believe in spirits. I would also give this to a student who has ever felt bullied.

In school, this boo
Jun 13, 2017 rated it really liked it
This book is about a vivacious,curious, dreamer of a girl named Shida, which is the word for problem in Swahili. She was given this name by a "curse" placed upon her by her own grandmother when she was born. Shida wants to be a healer and she hopes that moving to a new village can make that possible. But with many curses and action that make it seem like they must go back. Will she pursue her dream of going to school and becoming a healer? I recommend this book for ages 10-14. Anyone can read th ...more
May 23, 2017 rated it liked it
I think this might be intended for a younger audience, but it was a simple read with a glimpse into tribal life.
Oct 11, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Elizabeth Johnson
May 05, 2013 rated it it was amazing
*I received this book as a giveaway from Goodreads! Below is my review, which can also be found at:

Summary: Big changes are on the horizon for the people of Litongo. The elders of the small village have decided it would be best for everyone to move to Njia Panda, a larger and more progressive village. As to be expected there are grumbles of disagreement and fear, but for thirteen-year-old Shida there is nothing but excitement. Moving to a larger village me
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jun 09, 2013 rated it really liked it
A Girl Called Problem: a novel by Katie Quirk
Eerdmans Books for Young Readers, 2013
243 pages
Multicultural/Realistic Fiction
Recommended for grades 5-8

Shida is a thirteen year old girl carrying around a family curse and a name that does little to let anyone forget it: Problem. When the members of Shida's African village, Litongo, decide to move to Tanzania for greater opportunities, Shida is thrilled. In Tanzania Shida will be able to go to school as well as have the chance to learn more about med
Apr 20, 2013 rated it it was amazing
This book was great - touching, engaging, richly detailed, educational. I don't read a lot of fiction aimed at young adults (or a lot of fiction in general), but I really enjoyed this book.

The story is set in Tanzania and follows Shida, a young girl coming of age in a small village of the Sukuna tribe. Her village is asked to move to another village as part of President Nyerere's "ujamaa" program (a kind of Tanzanian experiment in socialism). Shida and her tribe's struggles are deeply intertwin
Ms. Yingling
Nov 30, 2013 rated it liked it
Shida lives in a small, rural Tanzanian village in 1962. She was named "problem" because her father died right before she was born, and now she and her mother struggle to survive. When the government encourages her village to merge with another so that they can both have access to better medical care and schools, Shida's village reluctantly agrees to move. Shida is thrilled to be able to go to school and to learn from the local nurse, but things are still not easy. Many believe that girls should ...more
Jacob Combs
This book was great touching, engaging, richly detailed, educational. I don't read a lot of fiction aimed at young adults, but I really enjoyed this book. The story is set in Tanzania and follows Shida, a young girl coming of age in a small village of the Sukuna tribe. Her village is asked to move to another village as part of President Nyerere's "ujamaa" program. Shida and her tribe's struggles are deeply intertwined as both must face a challenging new paradigm. Shida wants to go to school and ...more
Jul 10, 2015 rated it really liked it
The story of a young girl, just entering her teen years. Shida lives in Tanzania in a rural area not long after Tanzanian independence. Her father is dead, and her mother is suffering from depressions. They are poor, and opportunities are few, although Shida hopes to become a healer, perhaps even a nurse. Shida is worried that she will be pressured to marry soon.

An announcement is made that they will all move to the next nearest village, they will be given new land, and new houses. They will ta
For reading purposes I consider July 1 the start of the new school year, so this is the first book of the 2014-15 school year...and it was a great read! It has something for everyone: adventure, mystery and history. And there is the reminder: education and equality is not provided for all and the process to change that is a never ending battle. In this book the battle is centuries of belief systems that demonize people and oppress women and children.

BOOKTALK: My name is Dorothy, meaning "gift of
Sep 24, 2013 rated it really liked it
In 1960s Tanzania, just after independence, young teen Shida dreams of becoming a nurse. She's in a tough situation, though. Her father died at her birth, and her mother was accused of cursing him (thus Shida's name, which means 'Problem'), and moved back to her own father's village. She mostly sits in their hut, depressed, leaving all the work to Shida. Then, the new president decides to consolidate the far-flung villages to better provide social services, forcing the people of Shida's village ...more
Colsie Froerer
Dec 08, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: eng-429
I decided to read this book because I needed a young adult book to meet a requirement for my English class and my professor recommended this one. When I first saw the book I had no idea what it was about, the cover attracted me and was the reason I even can it any attention. Since I didn't know what it was about I did not have any expectations except for the fact that is was about a girl who had problems.
The characters in the book were unique to the story and gave it an interesting feeling thro
May 21, 2013 rated it really liked it
A Girl Called Problem takes place in Tanzania in 1967 and is about a thirteen-year-old girl named Shida, which means "problem" in Swahili. Her family was believed to be cursed, so she was named Shida to mark the curse. Shida dreams of being a healer and going to school instead of becoming a wife, and she thinks this may come true when her village is moved from Litongo to Njia Panda by order of the new Tanzanian president. However when they move there they find life is not as easy as they had hop ...more
Feb 07, 2017 rated it really liked it
I enjoyed this book. I decided to read it because I wanted to read more multicultural novels. I was intrigued with the cultural difference between the United States and Tanzania. I also liked how words from the Swahili language was incorporated into the book in order to make the story more authentic. I think that females would enjoy this story more than boys would, but it is a great story.

I think that I would teach this novel in a classroom. It is very educational, and it is a great way to intr
This was a pick from the library based on a whim. Recently I have been reading more books based in Africa and I am always fascinated by the culture. This book was an unique look about life in Tanzania through the eyes of a teenager who is poor and an outcast, likely based in the 1960-70s. Shida , in Swahili means problem, so named because her birth happens to coincide with the death of her ill father. We meet Shida as life is about to change for her and the rest of the village. She is the grand- ...more
Nelda Brangwin
Oct 11, 2013 rated it really liked it
Growing up with traditional village values in 1967 just after the independence, Shida, has to reconcile the modern and the traditional. Her name means Problem in Swahili, and she does have problems. Her father is dead and her mother refuses to participate in life, spending most of her time in the hut sleeping and cursing Problem for not doing enough. She is surrounded by family and when her grandfather, the village leader decides to support the new government of Tanzania by moving to a new villa ...more
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Katie Quirk ( is the author of A Girl Called Problem, a middle-grade novel set in Tanzania. She lives in Maine and is working on a book about raising her son in India.
More about Katie Quirk

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