by Terry Farish
Publisher: Marshall Cavendish
Reading level: YA
Book type: verse novel
In spare free verse laced with unforgettable images, Viola’s strikingly original voice sings out the story of her family s journey from war-torn Sudan, to Cairo, and finally to Portland, Maine. Here, in the sometimes too close embrace of the local Southern Sudanese Community, she dreams of South Sudan while she tries to navigate the strange world of America a world where a girl can wear a short skirt, get a tattoo or even date a boy; a world that puts her into sharp conflict with her traditional mother who, like Viola, is struggling to braid together the strands of a displaced life.
Terry Farish's haunting novel is not only a riveting story of escape and survival, but the universal tale of a young immigrant s struggle to build a life on the cusp of two cultures.
(synopsis from Goodreads)
I felt like I needed a bit of a break from fantasy, so I chose to read The Good Braider. It's a historical novel, written in free verse, about the immigrant experience. I'd really enjoyed Thanhha Lai's Inside Out & Back Again, about a Vietnamese family coming to the U.S. in the 1970s... so I thought I'd enjoy this one, about a Sudanese family coming to the U.S. in the early part of this decade. Both may be historical novels about war refugees written in free verse, but that's about where the similarities end... both in subject matter and my reaction.
I just couldn't seem to connect with Viola, the teenage narrator. Some pretty horrific stuff happens, but instead of being disturbed by the events, I found myself taken out of the flow by having to re-read passages because the writing seemed clunky and I couldn't picture what was going on. In the beginning, the book takes place in Juba, in the southern part of Sudan. At times, the writing is pretty sparse, and I just couldn't get a feel for the place, which I found disappointing. I think Viola's family lived in a house. I know she mentioned a courtyard. They were supposedly surrounded by war, but I never got much of a feel for that, either. I hoped things would pick up when Viola, her mother, and younger brother headed north to Cairo to escape the soldiers, but much of the long journey was glossed over. It's not that I wanted a day-by-day account... but something just wasn't right with the pacing. At times, it seemed interminably slow... and then suddenly we'd be told that two years had passed. What happened during that time? What was going on with the characters? The way it was written, you might be forgiven for thinking they'd spent those years in a state of suspended animation.
The story only picked up when they arrived in Portland, Maine. And while it was interesting to see how they reacted and adapted (or didn't adapt) to their new surroundings, I felt like that part of the book was really nothing new. What made this particular story unique was the arduous journey out of Africa. I would have rather read more about that, rather than about Viola trying to adjust to an American teenager's life. Or, really, I would have rather read more about that if it had elicited more of an emotional reaction from me. As it was... I don't know. I just wasn't feeling it.
While this book's subject matter was interesting and uncommon (at least, I haven't heard of many books about Sudanese immigrants), it lacked the emotional pull that I wanted to feel from the characters and story. All in all, it was kind of disappointing; I had hoped it would be better.
Overall: 3.29 out of 5