Fifteen-year-old Munna lives with his Ma and sisters in a small town in India. Determined to end his family's misfortunes, he is lured into a dream job in the Middle East, only to be sold. He must work at the Sheikh's camel farm in the desert and train young boys as jockeys in camel races. The boys, smuggled from poor countries, have lost their families and homes. Munna must starve these boys so that they remain light on the camels' backs, and he must win the Gold Sword race for the Sheikh. In despair, he realizes that he is trapped and there is no escape . . .
Shenaaz Nanji was born on the ancient island of Mombasa, one of the oldest settlements on the East African coast, and grew up amid a fusion of cultures: Bantu-Swahili, Arabic, colonial British, and East Indian. Every year she visited her grandparents, uncles, aunts, and cousins in Uganda until Idi Amin turned them into refugees. She moved to the United States and lived in upstate New York before moving to Calgary, Alberta, Canada, where she now lives with her husband and children. She holds an MFA in writing for children and young adults from Vermont College and has written several books for children.
Ghost Boys by Shenaaz Nanji is the story of a group of boys that through different circumstances end up in an Ousbah together. An Ousbah is a camel stable where camels and boys are trained to race. All of the boys ended up there against their will, or under false impressions. The main character is Munna, a fifteen year old boy that believes he is cursed and that he has cursed his entire family. After a series of devastating events at home, Munna leaves with the man he calls Uncle for what he believes is a job in the Palace. After discovering he was actually sold into slavery he starts plotting his escape. Plans to escape are met with obstacles like developing feelings for the boys in his care at the Ousbah and meeting a girl. Munna learns much about himself, his morals, and working for the greater good from his experience in the Ousbah.
The title of the book, Ghost Boys, comes from the camel jockeys as they are singing to pass the time. They call themselves ghost boys because to everyone that knew them they are lost or dead. Having been an outcast and considered cursed all his life, Munna trusted no one and had very few positive relationships in his life. His life in the Ousbah taught him how to be with other people, how to look past the curse that everyone back home said he carried with him, it also taught him how to care for others. What really stuck out for me is how vulnerable Munna starts out in the story. He seems to have everything stacked against him, the only boy in his family, his father had disappeared when he was a toddler, and now he was in the Ousbah with only boys, and he was to be the father/brother figure to them all. All he has left is his honor and determination to make things right for his Ma and sisters, so they can break out of the poverty they have suffered in all his life. The struggle for self-preservation vs working for the greater good is a predominate theme in the novel. It would be easy for Munna to become the demon he saw in the Master, but instead he looks deeper and finds a humane way to accomplish their shared goals. He would rather stay and keep his families honor than leave the boys to a horrible fate just to save himself.
While the novel is a book of fiction, Shenaaz Nanji takes great care in explaining the way an Ousbah works, from the camels’ care, to the training of the jockeys. There are depictions of abuse and neglect, and Munna must fight his inner self to not just accept this is how things are and do what he knows is right. While the focus is on winning the Gold Sword Race, the training for the race allows Munna to develop relationships with the rest of the boys. The challenging power struggle between adolescences is something most young adult readers will be able to relate to. There is a girl that Munna meets, a rebellious teen from Canada named, Avra. She helps him hold onto his humanity while believing in him and his plans. It shows how relationships can form in the oddest of situations and those can be the most meaningful you develop in life.
Overall this book is written on a level for the young adult, the subject matter while serious just touches on the deeper issues and would make a great starting point for more in-depth discussions on slavery, human trafficking, abuse and humanity.
Will you fight for freedom and return home? In Shenaaaz Nanji’s Ghostboys, this YA action adventure novel tells the story of Munna Patel and how he honored his family.
Munna Patel is an Indian teenage boy who lives in poverty with his family. His father had ran away and never returned again. After his sister Didi commits suicide, his family had no money to pay for the funeral or to give his sisters a honorable dowry to get married. It was up to Munna to look for work and bring money money. When his “Uncle” claimed he had found a job for him to work for the Sheikh, it paved the way for him to do the honorable things even after his mother’s protests. So he leaves India to go to Sudan on a boat. From there, he’s forced into the world of slavery with other “ghost boys” at the ousbah and trains them to race camels for the Gold Sword Race. While he learns the ropes of camel racing, he meets the fellow boy jockeys and tries to win them over. While he trains them for the big race, he plans his escape and a way to get home. He also wins their friendship and meets Avra, a Canadian teenage girl, his fellow ally. Later, he becomes a hero amongst everyone at the camel farm and helped save the life of a camel. After the race, he prepares to say goodbye and discovers a shocking twist in the end.
This novel takes place in the Sudanese desert and also in India. This is really well-written and well-researched for everybody who loves YA novels, especially in the drama and action-adventure genre. It has captivating scenic locations and settings with gripping descriptions and painted the picture of poverty and slavery as well. The theme of the story is freedom and honoring your family by doing the right thing and making a difference in everyone’s lives. Poverty happens everywhere, when slavery shouldn’t happen to young kids in any country. It’s also about honoring your family and the fight for freedom, even if the circumstances are ire. I think this deserves to have the change to be agented, too.
I do have some nits to make this piece better. There’s some instances of showing vs telling than can do without th passive, and weak filter words like felt, saw, heard. When you remove them, it makes them stronger and powerful. No colons needed before dialogue quotes for dialogue. Some typos for ending dialogue before dialogue. And some of the Indian words needs a translation or glossary on what it means, if it’s not included in the dialogue. For example, what does beta or kush mean? For those of us who don’t speak Indian, it would help us fellow readers out, if it was included.
Overall, this was a wonderful YA action adventure novel. I wish to give it 4.75 stars; but I will give it five stars across the board.
This diverse YA novel helps give you a sense of what goes on in reality. I mean, who knew that camel racing was a thing, let alone poaching young boys (and toddlers) to be jockeys? That's just mind-blowing in itself, but to learn about it in a novel is eye-opening.
Manna never really had a father figure in his life, and to see him transform into a surrogate father and even older brother to the boys is a sweet touch (and animals, come to think of it). He was trying to give them a better outlook on their situation, and even puts their happiness and well-being before his own. Munna is a truly phenomenal character, and I commend Shenaaz for writing a book with mostly all male characters - we don't get enough of that in books these days (at least, all the books that I read).
Munna believes that he is cursed. Not only was he the fourth child but all of his older siblings are girls and in rural India, this is not a blessing. His father has run off and now his eldest sister has been refused as a bride and sent back, thus bringing shame and hardship to the family. Munna is determined to find a way to make enough money to provide a dowry for his sisters and embarks on a perilous journey under the wing of his Uncle. This novel gives the reader a greater understanding of the camel racing culture in the Middle East where very young boys are recruited to be the jockeys. It is extremely well written with beautifully poetic passages and characters that are very realistic. The plot progresses smoothly and the ending is touching. Highly recommended for teens.
Shenaaz Nanji’s new YA novel, Ghost Boys, follows fifteen-year-old Munna from his hometown in India, to a Middle Eastern desert, where young boys are trained as camel jockeys for the wealthy Sheikh.
Munna’s father has left the family and Munna is desperate to provide his mother and sisters with a better life, so when the unsavoury Uncle Suraj promises him a job working at a Sheikh’s Palace, Munna is willing to leave his home and loved ones for an opportunity to prove himself and save his family. But the Palace turns out to be a camel farm and Munna discovers he has been sold as a slave to train the young camel jockeys who are also trapped in horrible conditions with nowhere to go.
Shenaaz Nanji sweeps us into her gripping tale with vividly painted settings and well developed characters who bring this harsh world to life in a story you are not soon to forget. With her lyrical voice and thoughtful sensitivity, Nanji masterfully brings our attention to child slavery while telling an engrossing story that keeps the reader turning the pages.
Ghost Boys by Shenaaz NanjiMunna Patel has dreams just like any other teenage boy. He wants to be a cricket player when he grows up. However, in the aftermath of his father’s abandonment he has no choice but to take up the role of man of the house. When his ‘uncle’ shows up with a job offer at a Sheikh’s compound, he has no choice but to take it. He is sold to Sudan where he meets sweet Babur and the sultry Avra. After all, dreams will not provide the dowry for his sister’s marriage. Dreams will not give his sister Didi a decent send-off. Dreams will not feed his Ma either. At fifteen, Munna finds himself in a world where boys his age and even younger are exchanged for money. They are used for the financial and social benefit of the buyer. The little boys live in squalor and are often starved. This is for the ridiculous purpose of ensuring they stay light on the camel’s back. However, Munna sneaks milk and honey meant for the camels to his ‘little brothers’. While he is training the boys to win camel races, Munna gains favor and is offered money to win the Gold Sword Race. The money will go a long way in ensuring a better future for his family and himself. Munna comes up with a big idea that could mean the end of child trafficking. Will Munna manage to save the ghost boys? Why is ‘Monster-Ji’ suddenly so different? Will Munna make it home to his Ma? This young adult action adventure by Shenaaz Nanji is a well-told tale of poverty and slavery. Munna even asks God not to make poor little boys because then they will become jockeys but will have no one to care for them since he will have gone back to his Ma. The author gives a different side of the story by Master-ji who talks of the choice between letting sons beg for food on the streets or selling them to people like the Sheikh where they have a sliver of a chance at a better life. The story is a gripping narration of the importance of honoring one’s family and making a difference in the lives of others. The scenic descriptions and easy flow make for a compelling literary experience with the reader enjoying every bit of this emotionally charged book. The Ghost Boys is a deeply detailed piece of art. There are a few Indian words whose meaning is hard to guess. This, however, remains to be a great book. It highlights on the often-ignored realities of child trafficking. It is imperative that poor children from third world countries get protection from influential people. In the world of camel racing, they are expendable and their lives matter very little compared to that of the camels. This book is a cry for help for those children who are forced to race camels in the desert for pennies. These children need rescuing from self-serving and cruel masters.
Without warning, life can take a devastating turn, which occurs based on your own actions or the actions of others. You’re then left to figure out what would be the best strategic move to either repair what has been damaged or continue pushing through in the hopes it will get better. In “Ghost Boys”, author Shenaaz Nanji encompasses his readers within the life of a young boy by the name of Munna Patel, who is the man of his family but deemed cursed. Everyone claims he’s been cursed from birth and nothing seems to go right in his life or for those in his family, almost as if his family suffers his fate. We follow him on his journey of making a better life for himself, his mother and two sisters in honor of his late sister Didi. When one is willing to do anything out of desperation for a better life, usually consequences are much larger than your initial thought and we can only hope he’s successful.
The life that Munna lived far away from home and his family didn’t seem like the ideal situation, but he took it upon himself to make the best of it. In this book, the bond readers develop with Munna would be considered remarkable, as we visualize what his surroundings are like simply based on the good descriptions by the author. There’s also room to feel the similar emotion of depression, sadness and hints of anger following along throughout the day as chores are completed and communication with others are fulfilled. By meeting new people, he was able to utilize all that he learned in this experience and come up with an idea fit to benefit everyone. Although Munna claimed he was cursed, he took that as a strength and used it to greatly improve the situation at hand, which in turn made better lives for everyone else involved.
In the beginning of reading this book, I didn’t know how I would feel, or even if I would enjoy it. I was convinced by Shenaaz Nanji’s writing, which provided excellent character development that enabled me to make emotional bonds with a few characters. What I enjoyed most was being a witness to the growth and improvement of the lives of others and all it took was the main character to enter their lives. It reminds me of people in real life and how everyone who enters your life has been brought to you to fulfill a purpose. I recommend this book to anyone that would be interested in learning about Arabian life and its culture, there’s enough information to take away from it.