cover image A Girl Named Disaster

A Girl Named Disaster

Nancy Farmer. Orchard, $19.95 (320pp) ISBN 978-0-531-09539-3

Farmer (The Ear, the Eye, and the Arm; The Warm Place, see p. 84) returns to Africa for the setting of this gripping adventure, equally a survival story and a spiritual voyage. When cholera decimates a village in Mozambique, a muvuki (traditional healer) identifies the cause of the illness as the work of an ngozi (avenging spirit) who had been slain by the orphan Nhamo's father. The muvuki decrees that Nhamo must marry the ngozi's surviving brother-a diseased and brutal man. Urged by her grandmother, Nhamo runs away, in hopes of finding her father's family in Zimbabwe. The two- or three-day boat trip, however, turns into a months-long odyssey through wilderness, where Nhamo must call upon all the skills she has ever learned in order to stay alive. Farmer overlays this suspenseful tale with a rich and respectful appreciation of Nhamo's beliefs. Without slowing the pace or changing her tone, she interpolates folktales that illuminate Shona culture; she also casts Nhamo's ordeal in terms of the spirit world, so that Nhamo confronts not just wild animals but witches, and communes not just with memories but with ancestral spirits. Nhamo herself is a stunning creation-while she serves as a fictional ambassador from a foreign culture, she is supremely human. An unforgettable work. Ages 11-up. (Oct.)