8 June 2011

Review 29: Out of Shadows by Jason Wallace

My final stop of my tour of the 2011 Carnegie Medal shortlist. I had put this one off as it didn't really appeal; male protagonist in an all boys boarding school set in 1980s Zimbabwe under Robert Mugabe, not something I know a lot about, to my shame. However, once I started I couldn't put down this exciting, thought-provoking and moving story of race, friendship and loyalty.

Out of Shadows is the story of Robert Jacklin, an English boy who moves to Zimbabwe with his parents. He is enrolled in a prestigious boys boarding school which has recently been moved to start accepting black boys after Mugabe took control of Zimbabwe. At school, Robert encounters Ivan a white boy who is determined to follow through with his plan to restore what he sees as the right way for 'his' country to be.

Wallace capably covers the historical background to the novel as part of the story - I felt I knew enough for the story to make sense but it also inspired me to do some more reading into what happened, and is still happening, under Mugabe. Hopefully teenage readers' interest would also be piqued and they will be encouraged to look at things in more depth and understand a bit more about what's going on in our world. I must admit I was largey ignorant of the events that led up to Mugabe taking power in Zimbabwe and this is incorporated into the story. The character of Ivan has witnessed the vicious bush wars at first hand on his rural farm and goes on to see his father have his land taken off him and this explains, if not justifies, his behavious towards black people.

Robert himself is an interesting main character. He often makes weak or bad decisions and when he falls in with the white supremacists, he seems to be quickly convinced by their argument. In fact the argument seems all too persuasive at times; I think Wallace has tried to show why Robert falls in line with these people whilst maintaining Robert as an essentially 'good' person but occasionally it comes uncomfortably close to sounding as though they are valid reasons for judging people because of the colour of their skin. However, Robert does realise by the end that Ivan and his arguments are flawed as Ivan and his friends get more and more obsessed with their ideologies so the message of the book is clear by the end.

Wallace does raise the issues of right and wrong cleverly. This book, and the situation, isn't as clear cut as racism. Wallace mostly successfully encourages his readers to consider the dual issues of race and morality in his book. Mugabe happens to be black, but he is also an amoral and cruel man. This is not because he is black but his race factors in to his aims for Zimbabwe. Wallace's ultimate message, a valuable one for teenagers, is that people are individuals and people can be cruel, or violent, or prejudiced whatever their colour and that no individual should be judged by the stereotypes of his race or colour but on their individual merits and their actions.

The actual story follows Robert as he deals with various issues of growing up; his alcoholic mother, bullying at boarding school, his future as well as the constant underlying issues of race that he encounters. As he falls in with Ivan he begins to do and say things that are clearly wrong to the readers and Wallace does not shy away from relaying the brutality of the time. Ivan and his friends do some abhorrent things which I was not expecting to find in a young adult novel and there are some things that younger readers could find upsetting and disturbing; there were a few unpleasant images that stuck with me for a while.

The novel comes to its climax with a visit by Mugabe to open the new wing of the school and the finale is rather action packed and changes in tone somewhat for a very tense, thriller-esque ending. I genuinely did not know how Wallace was going to conclude this, he had demonstrated that he wasn't a writer to shy away from unhappy events which meant there were no guarantees for any of the characters, except of course Mugabe, who is still in power in Zimbabwe.

Out of Shadows is a thought-provoking and fast-paced novel that will involve readers and hopefully inspire teenage readers to think about what their actions say about them.

No comments:

Post a Comment