From the blurb:
The war is over. But there's one last battle to fight.
The fighting has stopped, independence has been won and Robert Mugabe has come to power offering hope, land and freedom to black Africans. It is the end of the old way and the start of a promising new era. For Robert Jacklin, it's all new: new continent, new country new school . And very quickly he is forced to understand a new way of thinking, because for some of his classmates the sound of guns is still loud and their battles still rage on... white boys who want their old country back, not this new black African government. Boys like Ivan. Clever, cunning Ivan. For him there is still one last battle to fight, and he;s taking it right to the very top.
My review and thoughts
I was initially interested in this book when I read the blurb when discussing the books nominated for the Teenage Booktrust Prize at my school book club, which I joined in September. I have wanted to find out more about the South-African apartheid and its effects for a while and this seemed like a good way to do that. It begins in 1983, at the beginning of the Rhodesian Bush War and Robert Mugabe is prime minister, making it a very interesting setting.
At the beginning of the book we meet thirteen year old Robert, who is a young boy whose family have moved to South Africa from England just after the war. He is sent away to one of the most prestigious and expensive boarding schools in the country, away from his family and everything that he has ever known. It is told in the first person through Robert's eyes and I found it very easy to emphasise with his unhappy feeling of home sickness and loneliness in a strange place unknown to him. The boy's boarding school world turns out to be living hell and he struggles to adapt to a place filled with unjust racial and social tension where the older boys are not afraid to torture the younger ones like him. Robert quickly makes friends with another victim, a black boy called Nelson Ndube. The two vow to protect each other like brothers but Robert struggles to muster the courage defend his new friend from the constant racist bullying. When the seemingly cruel and manipulative Ivan suddenly takes a different turn with Robert, he seizes his chance to become one of a group of 'tough boys' who become the bullies that they used to hate as they move further up the school. Robert made some bad decisions that shape his life at time school but this is very understandable in the harsh school environment where the instincts are to protect yourself.
The story follows him as he grows and matures over the years into a young man until he eventually comes to question what he has become involved in and has to make some tough choices.
There are points in the story where events seem to be shocking to be true and that's what makes this book fast paced page turner that deals sensitively with raw human emotions and prejudices. The writing is extremely powerful and the accounts horrifying and for that reason, I think that others will love it but I didn't particularly enjoy it. Despite this, it still left me with a lot to think about.
Note: Out Of Shadows is marketed as a YA book but I think it leans more towards an adult book and will be enjoyed by both. I would also say that it is not suitable for children under 12 or 13 because of the bad language and violence.