cover image NO LAUGHTER HERE


Rita Williams-Garcia, . . HarperCollins/ Amistad, $15.99 (144pp) ISBN 978-0-688-16247-4

In this disturbing and poignant coming-of-age novel, Williams-Garcia (Fast Talk on a Slow Track ; Like Sisters on the Homefront ) explores how two girls experience very different initiations into adolescence. Ten-year-old Akilah (whose name means "intelligence" in Swahili) feels ambivalent about being an "early bloomer." Instead of brooding about the changes in her body, she would rather be playing with her Nigerian friend Victoria, who is spending the summer in Africa with her family. Akilah looks forward to Victoria's return to America, but when Victoria finally does come home, she is different, acting quiet and withdrawn and treating Akilah like a stranger. Worst of all, Victoria "won't laugh." The author plants subtle clues as to Victoria's dramatic change (e.g., Victoria overreacts to the word "operation," in math class). But most readers will be as baffled as Akilah wondering what happened to Victoria in Nigeria to make her so sad. Then the shocking truth comes out during a heart-breaking confessional: While back in their homeland, Victoria's parents forced her to have an operation, and Victoria no longer feels whole. This contemporary tale about the ancient rite of female circumcision will no doubt leave an indelible mark on preteens. The author attempts to remain objective, showing how and why the ritual is still practiced in some cultures. Nonetheless, what readers will remember most about this honest novel is Victoria's physical and emotional pain and how her trauma dramatically affects Akilah's perception of Victoria's parents and her own pride in her heritage. Ages 12-up. (Jan.)