The Hissing Tree
In this somewhat meandering coming-of-age tale, first-time author Winter draws on childhood experience to paint a vivid picture of life in 1952 Southern Rhodesia (what is now Zimbabwe). Over the course of a summer, 11-year-old tomboy Nicole "Nick" Doughty chronicles her experiences, which range from innocently entertaining (playing with her friends and struggling for control of their four-person gang) to nearly traumatic (being assaulted by several older boys). Along the way, she reluctantly confronts her oncoming adolescence, handles matters of life and death, witnesses the casual racism and social injustice of the era, and obsesses over a missing female journalist. While the novel's setting is authentic and the narrative voice engaging, it runs long and can come across as more episodic than cohesive, despite several underlying themes that include equality, racism, and life's innate unfairness. The blend of idyllic childhood escapades and brutal reality evokes an older style of storytelling, akin to John D. Fitzgerald's Great Brain series, though some readers may be daunted by the heavy use of slang and native terms (defined in an opening glossary). Ages 14–up.