Published By: Katherine Tegen Books
Publication Date: May 16, 2017
Page Count: 304
Source: ARC Kindly Provided by Publisher via Edelweiss
Young Adult - Memoir
This was a powerful memoir, but a difficult one to read. Sandra Uwiringiyimana is a young woman who grew up in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. War was a constant worry for her and her family; they were often displaced as fighting broke out. Things were even worse for Sandra's family as they came from a tribe that faced severe persecution in Congo. While Sandra's life in Africa, has many happy memories associated with it, it also holds some of her deepest pain.
The book begins in happier times when Sandra recalls playing with her pet monkey, laughing with her little sister, and getting into trouble with one of her older brothers. She describes life in her village and remarks on how much she loves attending school. Sandra's family is unique in the fact that they value education for females in a society that does not always see this as good use of time for girls. Many girls learn the basics and then begin to train for their lives as wives and mothers. Sandra's parents want their children to have options in life beyond becoming a spouse. I admired Sandra's parents and the way they operated their home and managed their large family. My heart also broke for them when Sandra's oldest brother, Heritage, was kidnapped and forced to fight in the army. Sandra's father refuses to rest until his son is returned home which will eventually happen, but Heritage will be plagued by his time as a young soldier and fitting into life with his family will take time.
As the family is beginning to make headway with Heritage, war breaks out. At the age of ten, Sandra finds herself living in a refugee camp in Burundi after her family had to flee their home in Congo. Life in a refugee camp is stressful and tedious. There seems to be a good bit of boredom for the kids and the adults carry the heavy burden of figuring out what is next for their family. One night as Sandra is getting ready to sleep next to her youngest sister, Deborah, who is only six, men with guns invade the camp. A violent and bloody massacre ensues which will forever change Sandra's life and outlook on the world. When the sun rises the next morning, Sandra realizes that her family will never be the same. Her account of this event is heartbreaking and difficult to read. I kept thinking of how her mother must be feeling during the entire event as she didn't know where all of her children were and if they had survived the brutal night. As a mother, my heart broke for her; I cannot imagine living through something so horrible.
I was also shocked as this massacre was not something I had heard about before. As Sandra states in the book, so many Americans don't realize what is happening in Africa. I'm guilty of that. The news tends to dominate political matters and focus on other regions of the world, but reading Sandra's story and learning more about the plight of her people makes me want to be more educated about the current situations in Africa.
After the massacre, the family moves to Rwanda where things are difficult and they live in extreme poverty. Things begin to look up for them when they learn about a possible relocation to the United States. After multiple interviews, the family is relocated to Rochester, New York. Sandra believes that her family has been handed a golden ticket. She will finally be able to experience the freedom and wealth that she believes all Americans possess, but she quickly realizes that the America on tv isn't reality for all Americans. Her family lives in a poorer neighborhood which comes with its fair share of crime. Furthermore, Sandra quickly begins to realize that race in America is not a simple thing. Her honest and heartfelt dialogue on race in the U.S. was another aspect that was difficult for me to read. I know that race still plays a huge factor in how people interact with one another, but it still hurts my soul to know that people in 2017 make assumptions about others solely based on race. I can only hope that one day we will learn to embrace our differences rather than use them to continue to divide us.
I highly recommend this memoir as it touches on topics that are significant to current global and domestic issues. I could easily see it being used in a World History or US History class. Sandra's story deserves to be heard and Americans need to be informed about the current climate in Africa. I also applaud Sandra for being brave enough to share her story with the world. We need more young women like her speaking out and fighting to put a stop to injustice.
One Last Gripe: My only complaint with this one is the pacing. Some sections I craved more detail as they sped by too quickly while other segments felt like they moved too slowly.
Favorite Thing About This Book: This is one of those books that sticks with you. Days after I have finished it, I can't stop thinking about it and Sandra. No child should have to experience the trauma she endured.
First Sentence: The night began softly.
This profoundly moving memoir is the remarkable and inspiring true story of Sandra Uwiringyimana, a girl from the Democratic Republic of the Congo who tells the tale of how she survived a massacre, immigrated to America, and overcame her trauma through art and activism.
Sandra was just ten years old when she found herself with a gun pointed at her head. She had watched as rebels gunned down her mother and six-year-old sister in a refugee camp. Remarkably, the rebel didn’t pull the trigger, and Sandra escaped.
Thus began a new life for her and her surviving family members. With no home and no money, they struggled to stay alive. Eventually, through a United Nations refugee program, they moved to America, only to face yet another ethnic disconnect. Sandra may have crossed an ocean, but there was now a much wider divide she had to overcome. And it started with middle school in New York.
In this memoir, Sandra tells the story of her survival, of finding her place in a new country, of her hope for the future, and how she found a way to give voice to her people.