Sarah's Stars

Allan Stratton. Chanda's Wars
HarperCollins $15.99  ISBN 978-1-55468-025-2  375 pg.
Reviewed by Lindsey, Age 14

Mandiki enjoys the herd boys' fear. He juts his jaw and winks at his troops. Taking their cue, the older child soldiers drop behind Pako and the herd boys, rip open their shirts, and pin them tight. Mandiki steps up to the first in line. He holds up a glowing brand. "With this brand, the world will know you are mine. No one-not even your mama or papa-will ever take you back. If they try to, they will die."

The child whimpers.

Chanda and her two younger siblings, Iris and Soly, are living alone now that Mama is dead. Chanda juggles caring for them and working part-time as a teacher's aide as well as trying to obtain a scholarship. But a recurring nightmare sends the teenager and her brother and sister from their African city of 80 000 to rural Tiro to make peace with their estranged family. A rift had been formed previously when Mama ran off with Chanda's father instead of her wealthy fiancée from a neighbouring family many years ago. When her mother contracted AIDS and fled back to her family, they turned her away and left her to die. Chanda found her and brought her back to their home in time for her to die in peace with her children. That was six months ago. Now Chanda is trying to heal the old scars with her family members and ancestors. When Chanda is promised to Nelson, the son of the man Mama was supposed to marry, she refuses and the entire family is sent into a frenzy again. They refuse to speak to her. But that's not the worst of it. Chanda's growing fears about Mandiki and his band of rebels from over the mountains are growing but nobody believes her. And then...chaos.

The rebels attack Tiro and take Soly and Iris, as well as Nelson's brother Pako, killing many of Nelson and Chanda's family members along the way. There are two choices: Leave Soly, Iris and Pako to become child soldiers with the rebels (or die), or...the unthinkable. Will Nelson and Chanda be able to rescue their siblings? Is it possible to rescue them without dying? The choice is made when Nelson and Chanda realize that life would not be worth living without their siblings anyway. And so, two orphans with nothing left in the world embark on an incredibly risky quest to gain back their lost families.

"Chanda's wars are everybody's wars." That simple quote from the afterword of the book rings so true with readers. Mandiki, his rebels and the town of Tiro are all fictional but similar stories are unfolding all over Africa. Chanda's saga is heartfelt and sincere and utterly absorbing. Before the action really gets going, the simple act of Chanda trying to reconnect with her family is still engaging and I felt a need to turn the page and find out what would happen next, what words would be said. Chanda and her family truly come alive within the pages of the book and her thoughts are raw and real. There is major character development in the story. Everyone ends up a better, stronger person at the end, even the nosy, bullying Mrs. Tafa, if you can believe that! I felt a little confused at the beginning because even though Chanda's Wars is a companion book to Chanda's Secrets it still felt more like a sequel. I haven't read Chanda's Secrets so even though the whole back-story about Mama dying of AIDS is explained I still felt as if I'd missed something important. But Chanda's Wars doesn't dwell on the past too much and even though the references to Mama are frequent, the story itself is its own. Chanda's story will resonate with readers all across the globe and even though the reality of it all is quite grim, Chanda's Wars ends with an optimistic, hopeful outlook.  

I give Allan Stratton's Chanda's Wars four stars.

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