One Shadow on the Wall

448p. S. & S./Atheneum. Jun. 2017. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781481462952.
Gr 5–8—In his seaside home in Senegal, 11-year-old Mor Fall experiences the deaths of his mother and father. His aunt Dieynaba wishes to separate Mor and his sisters Amina and Fatima, but they beg for a few months to try to support themselves and to raise Amina's school fees. After some missteps, Mor begins working for Demba, a poetic, cryptic fisherman who provides him with a much-needed adult perspective. Mor's dead parents also appear to give him guidance. Matters devolve when Mor's childhood friend Cheikh pushes Mor to join the Danka Boys, a gang of street kids from Dakar. Henderson creates a multifaceted portrayal of Senegalese village life. Senegalese vocabulary (presumably Wolof) peppered throughout enriches the text. The first chapters, rife with grief and contemplation, are almost elegiac. While the intricacy of the writing and the context needed to fully appreciate the story make this most appropriate for middle schoolers, the intended audience may initially balk at reading about an 11-year-old protagonist. The heavy themes, deep sadness, and slower pace of the first few chapters may deter some readers.
VERDICT A stirring tale that will likely require hand-selling to move off the shelf. Purchase as interest indicates.

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