FICTION

Gorilla Dawn

illus. by Susan Meyer. 432p. ebook available. S. & S./Atheneum. Jan. 2017. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781481486576.
COPY ISBN
Gr 5–8—As a child enslaved to a pitiless and greedy rebel leader who rules his desperate band in the jungles of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Imara has accepted a dark voice inside of her so she can survive in the role of the group's Spirit Child. When the leader establishes an illegal mining operation inside a national forest, a baby gorilla kidnapped by Imara's fellow child soldiers works its way into the girl's closed-off heart, exposing her to all the dangers that being vulnerable can bring. Lewis drops readers into this visceral rain forest setting. She vividly follows the axiom of "show, don't tell," using short sentences and situational vocabulary while assuming readers will approach the book with basic knowledge about traditional Congolese religious beliefs and cultural practices. Lewis uses notes before and after the story to raise sympathy for the plight of the environment and for gorillas, while leaving truly horrifying atrocities off the page or between the lines. This novel provides middle grade readers just the right distance from the emotional resonance of the characters' horror-filled experiences, resulting in a work that is gripping and educational though not wholly terrifying, but many may come away with a garbled and incomplete understanding of this region of the world.
VERDICT A powerful read on the topic of Congolese rebel groups for intrepid middle schoolers.

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