A young English boy, Robert Jacklin, finds himself enrolled in a Zimbabwean boarding school just after the war for independence. Robert Mugabe has come to power offering hope, land and freedom to black Africans. The school is still predominately white with a few token black pupils but the racial tension is bubbling beneath the surface.
Wow. This book is incredible. It's a book that I read a few weeks ago and still my brain is buzzing about it. A very big thank you to Sarah at Andersen for sending this book to me for review. Out of Shadows by Jason Wallace won the Costa Children's Book Award, and it fully deserves every good word ever said about it. It is so emotional and powerful.
I can't say that I knew much about Zimbabwe or how Robert Mugabe came into power until this book. It's set in the mid 1980s after the fighting had died down - and a new independence has been won. But still, the lingering resentments and bitterness between the different racial groups in the country are unsettling and haven't been resolved.
Our main character, Robert Jacklin, is an English boy who comes to live in Zimbabwe after his idealistic father takes a job with the embassy. Robert begins life in a boarding school making choices and throughout his academic career and in his personal life he continues to make choices, for right or wrong as he decides where his sympathies lie and what he believes. Jacko, as he's called, despite misgivings, throws his lot in with Ivan, an angry boy who at first bullies Robert and then becomes his friend.
And as we see this new country and this new environment and characters from Robert Jacklin's point of view, the reader can understand and almost sympathise when Jacko continues to make bad decision after bad decision in order to have status at his new school, in order to fit in with this new group of friends. At every turn I wanted Jacko to make different choices and to stand up for himself and those around him, especially as the bullying and the racism intensifies. I think it really shows the skill of Jason Wallace as an author, that Robert Jacklin is such a sympathetic character despite his friendship with Ivan, the school bully and tormentor. And despite Jacko's involvement in it all, I still carried with me the hope that Jacko will choose differently, that things can still end up well.
I really loved this book. I stayed up too late reading it, I felt emotionally connected to the story and the characters and I loved that it taught me something about a period of time I knew nothing previously. It's a very powerful first novel and it really made me think. In fact, I'm still thinking about this book and will do for a very long time. A really wonderful book.