City of saints and thieves by Natalie C. Anderson
Oneworld Publications, 2017. ISBN 9781786072290
(Age: 14+ ) Highly recommended. This novel grabs your attention from the very first page and races along at an intense pace. Christina, a young refugee from Congo, commonly known as Tiny Girl, is living a life of danger as a thief in Sangui City, Kenya. We learn her rules of survival: don't exist, trust no-one, don't have friends, have a plan etc. Her plan is: Dirt. Money. Blood. She wants to get the dirt on Mr Greyhill and his secret gold and arms deals with corrupt militia, pass the information on to the Goonda gang for their blackmail extortion racket, and then take the ultimate revenge on Greyhill himself, in retribution for his murder of her mother. With his death she will finally be free to take care of her sister Kiki, in hiding in a convent school.
Tiny sticks to her rules, she is highly skilled, fearless and dangerous; but not everything goes to her plan. She finds that at moments of desperation, she has to count on help from people she had not allowed herself to consider as friends, the gifted tech-savvy Boy-Boy, and her childhood playmate, Michael, Greyhill's son. Can she allow herself to trust them, and count on them when all their lives are in danger?
The characters, whilst larger than life, are still believable: Tina's grief for her mother, her struggle to find her roots and what that means for her identity, finding her own values, these are all things that young readers may readily identify with. The themes of refugees, social justice, modern day conflict and corruption are also very relevant.
The story is an incredibly exciting and tense thriller; I could easily envisage it as an action movie, with each suspenseful moment holding the audience on the edge of their seats. But it is also draws on real-life persecution stories that the author heard firsthand in her work with refugees in Kenya, as well as from documentation from Human Rights Watch and the UN Security Council. A Q&A with Natalie C. Anderson tells about her experiences and how they shaped the book.