In her latest novel focused on world issues, Ellis (the Breadwinner trilogy) focuses on the plight of AIDS orphans in Mulawi. In the opening chapters, current events take precedence over character development. The author establishes how 13-year old Binti went from starring on a popular radio show, attending a private girls' school and helping her generous father tend his Heaven coffin shop, to becoming an impoverished AIDS orphan. However, Binti comes to the fore once her father dies (at the funeral, her grandmother reveals the cause as AIDS) and greedy relatives descend upon Binti and her siblings, seize their possessions, and grudgingly offer them homes (separating the sisters from their brother). Ellis lays bare the prejudice and superstitions surrounding AIDS: the abusive uncle who adopts Binti cautions his children to "keep away from them," to avoid contracting the disease, and men believe that sleeping with a virgin will cure them. Hardship has an impact on the family in myriad ways, including her brother's trip to prison and her sister's sensitively portrayed downward spiral into prostitution, but it also brings the siblings full circle to seek out their grandmother, who cares for a band of AIDS orphans, and to employ their coffin-making skills to start another Heaven Shop. The ending may seem a bit tidy to readers who become immersed in this grim portrait of disease and ignorance, but they will likely cheer on this stalwart heroine and may well pay closer attention to headlines about AIDS and Africa. Ages 11-14. (Oct.)
FYI: Royalties from book sales will be donated to Unicef .