Naomi Benaron has already won the Bellwether Prize for Running the Rift, a novel about a boy who grows up during the ethnic conflict in Rwanda and the 1994 genocide.
The last two winners of the Bellwether were also first novelists whose work showed teen appeal: Hillary Jordan, 2006, for Mudbound (Algonquin Books) and Heidi Durrow, 2008, The Girl Who Fell From the Sky (Algonquin Books).
For more, take a look at my interview with Naomi Benaron, recently published in the SLJ Teen Newsletter.
I’m planning a couple new features on the AB4T blog in 2012. One is the addition of starred reviews. As you know, we only publish reviews of books that are recommended adult titles with teen appeal. Starred reviews will help to distinguish the truly outstanding titles featured along the way — those that might end up on a Best of the Year list, for example.
So, Happy New Year! Enjoy our first starred review!
Adult/High School–In 1984, Jean Patrick is only 9 or 10, the second son of a close Tutsi family living in Cyangugu, Rwanda on the grounds of the secondary school where his father is a teacher. Within the first pages, his father dies in a bus accident and his mother moves them to live with her brother, a fisherman. Perhaps in the countryside they can avoid the Hutu hostility beginning to emerge on campus. Soon after, Jean Patrick meets an Olympic marathon runner. From that day forward, he dreams of representing Rwanda at the Games. He is incredibly gifted and wins an academic scholarship to attend secondary school, where he also wins the interest of a coach, Rutembeza. Jean Patrick’s reputation grows, and saves him more than once as ethnic violence increases. When Rutembeza offers him a Hutu identification card to ensure safe travel to meets, Jean Patrick struggles with denying his true heritage. Meanwhile, his older brother joins the RPF (a Tutsi rebel group) after losing his fiancée in a massacre, his best friend is Hutu, and once at university Jean Patrick falls in love with a Tutsi woman, Bea, whose father is a well-known activist. Jean Patrick is ashamed not to be fighting alongside his brother until he realizes that his role is to show the world that a Tutsi can win the Olympics. Benaron successfully mitigates what could have been an unrelentingly grim narrative with a sympathetic main character, the love of family and country, the loyalty of friendship, the excitement of athletic competition, and the depth and purity of Jean Patrick’s love for Bea. Inevitably, horrendous acts of genocide transform Jean Patrick’s life and the scope of his dreams, but his hope never wavers.–Angela Carstensen, Convent of the Sacred Heart, New York City