Saturday, 3 July 2010

Book Review: Abela by Berlie Doherty

Be strong, my Abela.”

These are the last words of Abela’s mother in their HIV/Aids stricken African village, where it seems that to live or to die, to be sick or to be healthy, is just a matter of chance. It takes all Abela’s strength to survive her Uncle Thomas’s scheming to get to Europe, but what will be her fate as an illegal immigrant?

“I don’t want a sister or brother,” thinks Rosa in England, when her mother tells her that she wants to adopt a child. Could these two girls ever become sisters? Is there room in Rosa’s family for an African orphan haunted by lions? Is there room in their hearts?

Abela is a powerful and moving story based on true life from Carnegie award winning author Berlie Doherty writing at her very best.

My review and thoughts:

When I first saw this book in my local book shop whilst browsing the shelves, I didn't buy it at the time but the blurb and the striking front cover made it stick in my mind and I grabbed it straight away when I saw it some time later in the school library! I think that the reason why it appealed to me was that although set in modern times, it wasn't about a lot of the issues that children/teens read about today - e.g divorce- so I wanted to see what is was like.

This story about two young girls:  10 year old Abela, tricked by her Uncle and unwanted and Rosa, who lives in a safe and protected home was wonderful!  Berlie Doherty's writing made it a poignant and readable book that made me think. I think that she addressed the topic very sensitively and put a lot of thought into the feelings, emotions and relationships of the characters. Also, I thought that the beautiful simplicity of the way that the story was told and the innocence of Abela made the book so emotional.

The Story
Abela lived with her sick grandmother once her mother died of aids but her scheming Uncle tricks her into coming with him on a plane to England illegally to try and gain a British citizenship. Once there, she is alone and locked up, feeling homesick for her life back in Tanzania and her native culture. The book takes us through her journey as she is helped by kind social workers.

Meanwhile, Rosa, a 13 year old  English child whose father returned to his native Tanzania and never returned is trying to cope with the fact that her mother wants to adopt a child to be a brother or a sister for her. Secretly, she is very apphrensive and anxious of this but is nervous of sharing this with her mother as she wonders if she is no longer a good enough daughter.

The two stories of the girls are very cleverly linked into one using chapters that tell their story and the contrast between the two girls and their situations is shown very clearly and is incredibly poignant.

Topics that the book addresses
Within the story line there were lots of relevant topics that really got me thinking and wanting to know more such as the problem of aids in Africa, illegal immigration, child trafficking, and the process of fostering and adoption of children in the UK. Yet-don't worry!- these issues were woven into the storyline so I felt that they blended in so perfectly with it and were not too 'in your face' or overloaded with too much information. In the questions that Berlie Doherty was asked by other readers on Write Away (some spoilers so best to avoid unless you have read the book), she said that she felt although there were some serious issues in her books, she thought that literature helps children to understand and explore them.

I  also found out  on the Write Away website that Berlie Doherty's inspiration for the book was when she visited Tanzania and worked with aids victims and their families and also having looked down the route of adopting a child herself.

Summary of my thoughts on the book
Honestly, this story was really heart wrenching and powerfully emotional and left me thinking about it for a few days after I had read it (a while ago now) but I still remember it well now as it made such an impact because it tugs on your heart strings so much. Although this book carries the messages of inspiration, hope and finding out who you are and the love of a family.  I loved it so much that it now has a special place in my heart.

Berlie Doherty said that if she had to name a specific age that Abela is best for, it would be 13 (which means I am exactly the right age) however she also said that it is a book for everyone and anyone to enjoy and I definitely agree with that.

Cover Comparison

My favourite cover is the one on the right, because I think that it sums up the book better with the contrast between the two characters of the girl's whose story it tells and would also appeal to a much wider audience.
However, I think that the left cover would make the book appeal to boys more than girls.


  1. Abela sounds awesome! I think this is a book that I could really use with my kiddos in school. It would also be an partner-book for Chanda's Secrets by Allan Stratton. Have you read that one? Thanks for sharing!

  2. Yes, it was great! I'm sure it would be good for school. I haven't heard of Chanda's Secrets but I'll look it up- thanks for mentioning it :)


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