Ever read someone else’s blog post or review of a book and wonder if you were both reading the same book or not? I disagree with Ms Yingling’s Reads blog post on The Door of No Return, when she writes:
I wanted to like this, and the first 200 pages were great. Suspense, action, a smart and likable main character who struggles successfully against the odds. Since I’ve had students from Ghana, I thought it was great to see the cultural heritage discussed. However, when Zac lands at a leper colony in Ghana, the book lost momentum and the next 200 pages didn’t appeal to me.?
I had exactly the opposite response. I found the beginning of the book slow-going and raced through the last half fascinated with Ghana and the details of the European slave-trading /English betrayal. I believe this title is a must-have for high school libraries and I’m going to market it to mature 8th graders looking for more information on slavery and African heritage.
Fortunately, Miss YingLing’s blog post pointed out this article in Publishers’ Weekly More (and Better) Books for Black Teens which led to this article of African American Book Listing 2008-2009. The Door of No Return has a 2007 copyright, but a 2008 US release so I wasn’t surprised to see it made PW’s Best Books of the Year 2007 list. (Remember I was reading elementary titles then, not this near high-school YA fiction so it was okay to miss it earlier this year.)
I did find a review on Amazon.com that helped explain why I was interested in The Door of No Return on many levels. I managed to stumble across the blog Voice in the Desert with its list of Children’s books set in Africa for 2007. Stephen Davies did include another title I thought perfect for high schools – Over a Thousand Hills I walk With You. If you missed any of those titles, this coming year is a great year to go back and catch up on some mighty-fine titles.
What makes The Door of No Return so powerful? I believe the deft interplay of history and mystery with powerful racial connections that provoke responses to the history of slave-trading from the Gold Coast. Zac Baxter’s grandfather has told him he is a descendant of African kings and that somewhere there is a map to a treasure of gold. Zac witnesses his grandfather’s murder and a series of crooked government employees attacking him as they try to destroy the evidence of British wrongdoing in the history of Zac Baxter’s family.
The descriptions of Ghana are intriguing. Students will have many access points to research after reading The Door of No Return. Topics such as Leprosy, Portuguese and British slavers, the Gold Coast, Ghana, the doors of no return, and slavery will stimulate students to learn more.
I can see why Junior Library Guild picked this title for one of their levels. If it weren’t for JLG and an order that arrived by mistake, I might have missed The Door of No Return entirely.