My Totem Came Calling

Mawenzi House. Sept. 2019. 176p. pap. $18.95. ISBN 9781988449753.
Gr 8 Up–Memory loss and visions of zebras plague 17-year-old Chanda, who wants to capture everything by video in a reality show format. She has this aching feeling that she’s not living up to the calling of her ancestors. With her travel companions Swagga and Jix, she embarks on a road trip across Zimbabwe to Chanda’s ancestral village. The hope is that Chanda might seek an herbal remedy for her medical and mental mystery. After picking up a German hitchhiker, getting lost, visiting the Great Zimbabwe ruins, and being swarmed by a troop of baboons, Chanda’s visions lead her to the village where she knows almost no one. The four travelers are far from adventure, though. The teens have a savory worm meal, hide in a tree from a pride of murderous lions, and are visited by actual zebras, not imaginary this time. Chanda, more accustomed to her well-off upbringing in urban Harare surrounded by wealthy friends, finds the village life, with all of its inconveniences, liberating. The story starts slowly and seems a bit redundant until about a quarter way into the book. Once the road trip gets started, the story picks up quite a bit. The pacing drags in places and is rushed in others. Overall, the witty writing about contemporary Zimbabwean teens is worth the effort. More than anything else, this book seems to be a love letter to Zimbabwe, giving an honest yet loving depiction of both urban and rural living.
VERDICT A strong addition to any library collection. This book is intriguing travel fiction with hints of magical realism about a place and characters not usually seen in YA.

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