Saturday, June 24, 2017

City of Saints & Thieves by Natalie C. Anderson

Tina is a burglar and thief who works for the Goondas gang in Kenya.  She arrived in the city with her mother several years before but after her mother's murder, Tina has been surviving as best she can while ensuring her younger sister is safe at a local boarding school.   Tina has a clear mission:  revenge on the man she is sure killed her mother, Mr. Greyhill.  She has convinced the head of the gang to be part of her scheme to bring Greyhill down, steal his money, and kill him.  While Tina is in the home downloading files, she is caught by her former friend Michael who is Mr. Greyhill's son.  Michael is sure his father couldn't be a killer and strikes a deal with Tina to work together to find out the truth so she can be sure to bring down the correct person.  But the people with whom Tina works do not like changes in plans and they expect compensation, no matter what.

This is a multi-layered book with strong characters throughout.  Too often in stories the lead character is a miserable jerk who eventually learns something and becomes likeable by the end.  Tina is definitely unhappy but she is likeable throughout with her wits, skills and loyalty to her friends.  Michael and BoyBoy, the other two main characters, are just as developed and interesting.  Tina never shies away from the hard decisions but that didn't take away from my ability to identify with her. Although the three main characters are all pretty good people, most of the adults are harder to pin down one way or the other which makes them interesting and realistic. 

The book is a mystery and most chapters ended on enough of a cliffhanger for me to decide I had time to read just one more chapter...  But in addition to the satisfying mystery, Anderson has done a great job capturing the setting and some of the realities of life in Africa.  In order to find some answers, Tina decides to return to her former home in Congo.  Her town is a dangerous place constantly being attacked by various warlords who do some horrible things to the people in the town. All of these atrocities are included in the book but none of them in a way that makes this inappropriate for middle school readers.  In fact, the details are there to make it clear what, exactly, has happened to some people which is important for possibly taking some American teens a little more outside of their insulated worlds and hit them with the reality of life when your fate is at the whim of vicious, power-hungry men.  Even as I laud the wonderful way the setting is presented, I also want to point out that none of it feels too foreign for American readers which is great because books set in other countries are often dismissed by teens. 

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