Auma, a bright girl living in a remote Kenyan village, seeks to escape a cycle of poverty made desperate by the AIDS epidemic.
Auma’s Long Run by Eucabeth Odhiambo. Carolrhoda, 2017, 293 pages
Reading Level: Middle Grades, ages 10-13
Recommended for: ages 12-15
In some ways the village of Koromo suits Auma just fine. She does well in school and is the fastest runner on the girls’ track team. Also, her father’s job in Nairobi earns enough to keep Auma, her siblings, her mother, and her grandmother in relative comfort. But then comes the day Baba returns home for a routine visit . . . which apparently is not routine. Baba doesn’t return to work. Instead, he gets weaker and weaker until he can’t even get out of bed. Auma hears whispers that her father is afflicted with “Slim,” a disease that comes from “walking around.” Slim is claiming more and more African men, and women. People in Auma’s own village have died of it, including her best friend’s parents. Auma wants answers, but no one will talk honestly with her—and the grownups don’t seem to know more than she does:
I figured I could probably handle whatever answers were out there, at least in time. But what I couldn’t fathom was that all the adults around me were as blind as children, throwing spears at invisible things, choosing to make truth whatever they wanted it to be.
The little she learns strengthens her lifelong ambition to be a doctor, but the realities of her life are pulling her into the dead-end traditions of her village: marry, have babies, and die.
The author draws on her own childhood in rural Kenya during the AIDS crisis of the 1980s and 90s. It’s not a happy subject, but the tone is not exceedingly grim. Auma is a relatable character—bright, strong-willed, sometimes impetuous, but good-hearted overall. When her situation seems impossible she always finds reason to hope. Christianity has only recently come to her village and she expresses the normal doubts of a fourteen-year-old wondering where God is, in an epidemic that targets those of prime working age. At other times the words of the local pastor and songs of the congregation offer real comfort. Though religion is a factor it’s not the focus of this story—it’s about Auma’s own will and the choices she makes, which turn out to be good ones.
The subject matter necessitates some frank (though not graphic) talk about sex—note the age recommendation. It’s not always an easy read, but a worthwhile one for American children very far removed from the realities of life on the other side of the world.
Overall value: 4 (out of 5)
- Worldview/moral value: 4
- Artistic value: 3.75