cover image No Condition Is Permanent

No Condition Is Permanent

Cristina Kessler. Philomel Books, $17.99 (192pp) ISBN 978-0-399-23486-6

In her first novel, Kessler (One Night) explores sophisticated issues of cultural contrast between life in America and a remote African village through the eyes of a 14-year-old California girl. Providing an educational look into Sierra Leone's traditions and language, the author creates a likeable main character who is realistically headstrong and good-hearted. When Jodie's mother receives a grant to study in Sierra Leone, the girl suddenly finds herself living with snakes and scorpions and without electricity or indoor plumbing. She does find a soulmate in Khadi, a local girl who helps her see the beauty of the village and the culture (""Having Khadi, who I could barely talk to, hold my hand, as we walked past huts and goats seemed totally natural""). But when Khadi comes of age and is inducted into the women's Secret Society, which practices female circumcision, Jodie must decide whether or not to interfere. She wants to spare Khadi the pain (and possibility of infection or even death) but knows that getting involved might alienate her from her friend and banish her and her mother from their community. Jodie's observations of life in Sierra Leone occasionally read like exoticism (""Khadi, bare-breasted as usual and dripping wet, looked like a picture out of an art book""), and the ending, though realistic, comes a bit abruptly. Overall, the novel does a solid job of combining a complicated issue with a compelling plot. Ages 10-14. (Jan.)