Pat Lowery Collins, Author . Houghton $16 (186p) ISBN 978-0-618-30955-9

Collins (Signs and Wonders ) hauntingly explores the ramifications of a disturbing rite of passage in an island tribal culture. The novel, told in free verse, opens as 14-year-old narrator Helen sits in the "fattening hut," where girls go in near solitude to grow rotund before they marry, and where a secret ritual (female genital mutilation) is performed. But Helen's Aunt Margaret, who taught Helen to read, smuggles in books that the woman received from long-ago British visitors to their island. Into one of the books, Aunt Margaret tucks a piece she wrote, "An Island Story," a brief history of their island's practices, which mentions "the fattening and ceremonial cutting of young women." This is as explicit as Collins gets about the procedure (until an afterword), but it is enough to plant a seed in Helen's mind; the author establishes Helen's intelligence and intuition early on, in lyrical language ("The women are all telling me/ with words and without sound/ that I have no power even over/ what I think of as myself"). The heroine also proves her resourcefulness when, after escaping from the hut, she travels far from her family's settlement. Details about the lush land spring to life, as Helen seeks refuge in a tamarind tree and encounters anteaters, cayawolves and other exotic (to readers) wildlife. Collins presents Helen with choices, each of which means a painful sacrifice. An effective portrayal of a girl on the brink of adulthood, set within the framework of a suspenseful adventure story. Ages 12-up. (Sept.)

Reviewed on: 10/20/2003
Release date: 09/01/2003
Paperback - 185 pages - 978-0-618-55209-2
Show other formats
The Best Books, Emailed Every Week
Tip Sheet!