Book Tells African Girl’s Story of Survival and Her Triumph in Her Struggle to Get an Education

A Long Way to School tells the fascinating life story of Seconde Nimenya, who grew up in Burundi, Africa in the 1970s.

Nimenya is the author of three other books, including Evolving Through Adversity, her award-winning memoir. A Long Way to School is her young readers edition of that book, rewritten to inspire middle and high school age readers to overcome the challenges in their own lives. Western students will discover not only how good they have it compared to people in the developing countries, but they will discover anything is possible when you are determined to succeed.

Seconde Nimenya’s story is one of relentless determination in the face of challenges and a constant desire to learn and rise above her circumstances, no matter the odds.

From her early life, Nimenya refused to give up. As an infant, she crawled into a fire when her mother left the room for just a minute. Her parents had to carry her to the nearest hospital, an hour away by car, but since they didn’t have a car, they did the trip on foot.

Whether it was dealing with poverty and not being able to afford the mere necessities, fighting to get an education, walking everywhere she went, or dealing with the bullies in school and in life, Nimenya never gave up. Her resilience through much adversity is what made her who she is and informed her mission in life.

A Long Way to School is the story of fulfilling a purpose to become educated despite the difficulties. Nimenya never even touched a book until she was in sixth grade.

I doubt any reader in North America has experienced the hardships Nimenya did in getting to school, but she was determined to succeed, and she did. Eventually, she married and moved to Canada and then to the United States. She went to college, and perhaps most amazing of all, the girl who didn’t even know what a book was as a child, grew up to be a writer. She is now the author of four books and plans to write many more.

A Long Way to School will open the eyes of anyone to the privileges we take for granted in public education in the United States. Nimenya states, “I believe education is the only solution that truly empowers communities and has the potential to end the cycle of poverty and violence.” Her commitment to education, the obstacles she overcame, and what she had been able to accomplish will be eye-opening and inspiring to young readers.

Nimenya’s message is one of hope and encouragement. She believes that with determination, people can always achieve their dreams. No matter how difficult the journey, she tells us to “Always be persistent, like I was, even though it was a long way to school because I knew when I got there, it would be worth it.”

A Long Way to School is a wonderful book for young readers everywhere. It would be a perfect reading assignment for history, social studies, and English classes. In addition to sharing her story, Nimenya shares some leadership insights, the “Ten Leadership Habits for Your Teen Years and Beyond,” for readers to develop. She also provides a set of “Reflection Questions” at the end so readers can apply the concepts and ideas they’ve learned to their own lives, helping them figure out their own purposes and the futures they want to create for themselves.

Seconde Nimenya’s writing style is easy to read, and suitable for young readers from middle school grade level to older readers. The cover suits the book well because it shows a little girl struggling to walk to school, when school was so far away from home-a literal and figurative image of what Nimenya’s life has been. Read what this young girl has endured, and you will understand how you can also make the best out of any situation through perseverance.

I highly recommend A Long Way to School.

T Coraghessan Boyle’s Story of Rebellion During the Vietnam as Illustrated in Greasy Lake

Greasy Lake, written by T. Coraghessan Boyle, depicts the fear, violence, and salvation three rebellious young adults go though during a nasty fight caused by mistakes. This is written as a response to Vietnam. Mistakes leads to a nasty fight by the United States and Vietnam. Our soldiers go through many emotions and states, including fear, violence, and finally salvation if whey return home. The narrator, Digby, and Jeff go to their usual after-hours party spot only to mistaken a friend for a stranger doing the dirty with a female. As with the United States leaving Vietnam, the three boys run for cover as they drop the big guy and his friends arrive.

After a night of clubbing and intoxication, the narrator, along with Digby and Jeff, roll up on a stranger mistaken as a friend who is in the process of intercourse with his lady. The narrator loses his keys as the group mistakes the stranger for his friend. After the rude interruption, the huge fellow leaps out of the car to handle his business. The narrator realizes that the keys are their only answer, writing, “the lost ignition key was my grail and my salvation” (146). While looking for the keys, things go bad, as the narrator writes, “The first lusty Rockette kick of his steel-towed boot caught me under the chin, chipped my favorite tooth, and left me sprawled in the dirt” (146). This is the initiation process. The three young adults use their fear to fuel regression that leads to violence.

The narrator, Didgy and Jeff are just as, if not more, guilty than the guy they fight. The fear is temporarily relieved as “Didgy vaulted the kissing bumpers and delivered a savage kungfu blow to the greasy character’s collarbone” (146). Sadly, this doesn’t do much and Didgy gets knocked out. It’s not until the narrator takes the tire iron to the man’s head do things get serious. The intoxicated trio believe the man is dead .To make things worse, the intoxicated trio tries to rape the man’s lady but are chased off as the big guy’s friends arrive. Panic leads to all this violence. This is a classical allusion to Vietnam. Our Government sends a bunch of young, scared soldiers into Vietnam to fight people willing to die for their cause. It’s clearly a mistake, as our Government admits. This panic that caused both the three young adults to fight and our country to fight is childhood behavior, as David Friedman writes, “The direct use of force is such a poor solution to any problem, it is generally employed only by small children and large nations”

(www.wisdomquotes.com).

The narrator, Didgy and Jeff run off into the woods instinctively, with thoughts of cops, police, and jail in their minds. The narrator hides in waist deep water in Greasy Lake and finds a floating dead body. Then, suddenly, he hears the words “Motherfucker!” and is as happy as ever. The narrator writes,

I recognized the verbal virtuosity of the bad greasy character in the engineer boots. Tooth chipped, sneakers gone, coated in mud and slime and worse, crouching breathless in the weeds, waiting to have my ass thoroughly and definitively kicked and fresh from the hideous stinking embrace of a three-days-dead-corpse, I suddenly felt a rush of joy and vindication: the son of a bitch was alive! (149).

The scared, intoxicated trio wait in the woods and hear the smashing of the narrator’s car when suddenly, within five seconds, the parking lot is clear and everybody leaves. The narrator emerges from the woods during sunrise to find a great surprise.

Digby and Jeff also return to the car that the narrator is now encircling. As tore up as the car is, Digby says, “At least they didn’t slash the tires” (150). The car is drivable! The narrator reaches into his pocket only to remember he forgot his keys. As if a diamond, the narrator’s keys were sparkling five feet away from the car. The now tired, sober trio get in the car and as salvation approaches, a Mustang pulls into the parking lot and two girls get out. The girls are looking for “Al,” the guy that the narrator almost killed hours ago. The narrator writes, “We looked at her like zombies, like war veterans, like deaf-and-dumb pencil peddlers” (151). However, the zombies deny seeing anybody. What happens next makes the narrator want to cry. One of the girls pulls out a handful of pills and asks the three young adults if they want to party. They politely refuse the offer and drive away. Finally, it is over.

This is the story of three rebellious young adults who become violent from the heat and panic of the moment. These young adults are getting high, drunk, and want to relax at their spot, Greasy Lake. They mistake a stranger for a friend and interrupt his fortification session with a girl. What happens next is the allusion to Vietnam that the author makes. Out of panic, the intoxicated trio and the grumpy fornicator begin a fight. The United States mistakenly fights Vietnam. The fear creates regression for the soldiers involved. The violence they see in Vietnam is appalling. Some receive no salvation. Some do. The keys to the car is the salvation the young men seek. A trip home is the salvation the soldiers seek. Sadly, even though the young men may have learned their lesson, it seems like the United States’ involvement in Iraq shows history may repeat itself.

Book Review of Backward Compatible: A Geek Love Story by Sara Daltry and Pete Clark

Is there someone for everyone? Even me?

Time is passing and the Y Generation have now become young adults. During this social period computers and the Internet have become household items, at least in the Upper and Middle classes. Online gaming has now become a subculture complete with language, social activities and dress. The word ‘geek’ has become more a description of an alternate subculture than a derogatory term. Daltry and Clarke take us on a wacky trip into the world of computer geeks, as they follow the hectic lives of Katie Garretty and George Lindell. Will this young woman and man come together in a sweet romance, or will they be doomed to remain single forever? Does being a computer geek mean you can never have self-respect, or can these young people grow in self-confidence? Will the pair ever battle their way to the end of Fatal Destiny, the game which dominates their young lives? Backward Compatible is a romantic comedy that will entertain those who enjoy reading New Adult or Young Adult fiction.

Right from the start it should be pointed out that this book is a comedy and much of the humour revolves around politically incorrect views. This book is full of foul language, sexual references and biases against minorities. If you are looking for a book that will expand your social and political ideology you would do well to go somewhere else. If, however, you are looking for something that will make you smile, this is the book for you.

In tune with the gaming ethos of the book, the novel is divided into 15 “Levels”, reminiscent of computer game levels in which each new stage represents a higher degree of complexity and difficulty. The plot of Backward Compatible can roughly be divided into two halves. The first half, Level 1 – 7, revolves around the issue of whether Katie and George will actually get together, and the complication of a possible relationship between Katie and Jeff Browning (“Seynar”). The second half, Level 8- Boss Level (15), covers Katie and George’s budding romance and a gaming hunt for hidden keys, in order to win a $10,000 prize and a trip to Montréal. Both halves each contain an extended description of gaming play, so it should be pointed out that this novel is particularly designed for those interested in online games. If you are not so interested, these sections may seem a little dull. Most of the book, however, is of general human interest and so will appeal to a wide range of readers. The chapters are written alternately from Katie’s, then George’s, point of view. As a result we gain a look into both the female and male minds and lives of young adults. This book, then, should appeal to both male and female readers. At 356 pages Backward Compatible is of average length, however, it is just a little too long for the content. It could have benefited from some minor editing.

Daltry and Clarke have created a collection of likeable characters who the reader will instantly relate to. These characters will remind the reader of themselves or their friends. Both Katie and George are bright and witty, and at the same time vulnerable. We relate to their lack of confidence, and hope the best for them. Typical of the romantic comedy genre even the antagonist character, who I will not name in order to avoid spoiling the story, is not too bad: even they have endearing qualities. The character of Katie has an arc of development spanning the whole novel. We follow her as she progresses from an aching lack of self-confidence to a position of much more self-assurance and certainty. The character of George has two arcs of development. The first arc covers the first half of the story, and takes George from being a nervous young man who does not believe he will ever get a girlfriend to a happy young man who is now dating. The second arc revolves around the issue of whether George will actually have sexual relations with Katie. The character of Katie is a little more fully developed than that of George. The internal monologues for Katie take us deep into her mind and experiences. The character of George also has internal monologues, but we do not get quite the breadth of characterisation. For example, we hear of George’s physical longing for sexual satisfaction, but there are few detailed descriptions of this physical angst. This is not to say that George does not live on the page. The reader does relate to him as real.

In contrast to the new circumstances of the Y generation and technological development, as the subtitle suggests, romance is the central theme of Backward Compatible. This ageless theme is fully developed to the reader’s satisfaction. It is a simple fact of life that for many of us at least part of the solution for lack of self-confidence is finding a partner who we can love and be with. Katie and George are not the only characters to pair off by the end of the novel. Family is a very secondary theme. The reader gains a brief look into the families of George, Katie and Lanyon (George’s ever present buddy). We see parents who cramp their children’s style, but are caring, and a brother who is competitive, but willing to help. These two themes fit well together, as one has a tendency to lead to the other. Of course, a family is a long way ahead in Katie and George’s future, and we do not know if it will eventually come to be, but the reader can hope.

The humour in the novel works quite well. There is a great amount of witty comment and repartee, slapstick humour and tongue in cheek events. George and Lanyon are particularly a comedy duo a little reminiscent of The Three Stooges, although of course there are only two of them. For example, while George and Lanyon are at the store, at midnight, to buy the new release of Fatal Destiny George tries to pull Katie as a date by giving her his copy of the game to buy. Seeing this Lanyon comments, “I mean, if you are going to give up a midnight release the least she can provide you with is a little midnight release.” During the same incident George comments of Katie, “her smile is more that of a hungry T-Rex than innocent… ” At times the plot wanders a little into hyperbole. For example there is a three-storey climbing incident which is a little unreal, and certainly would not work in a less humorous and more realistic story. Similarly, in reality few friendships would last if a young man hit his friend in the testicles. But as has been noted this is a comedy and the reader is not too upset by these unrealities.

From the perspective of Feminism women in the novel are represented as quite dynamic and forward. Katie, despite her lack of self-confidence, can be very forceful in making her opinions known. She is a talented gamer and an aggressive fighter in Fatal Destiny. She is also an intelligent university student, an Art History major, who has gained entrance to Amherst College, a prestigious and exclusively selective university. Allie, Katie’s friend, is the first to turn against the antagonist character, deliberately killing their game avatar even though the antagonist is supposed to be on the same team. Anna, Katie’s best friend, is, however, more of a female stereotype. She is interested mainly in guys and clothes. Anna certainly gets a ribbing from Katie, though, on these points. Stacey and Vicki, two hussies who knew Katie in high school, also represent the female stereotype of get a man, have a baby and raise a family. These two women, though, are hardly represented positively, and their lifestyle is certainly not recommended.

The male characters, when seen in terms of Gender Studies, are hardly sensitive New Age men. Much of the humour comes from George and Lanyon’s insensitive, macho dialogue about women. Indeed, where women are concerned they seem interested in only one thing: sex. Much of this, however, is purely a front, an adopted persona. We see from the internal dialogue in his chapters that George in fact does have feelings, and indeed is quite sensitive, including being worried about his own masculinity. In the second half of the novel there is an extended incident where a George very much goes out of his way to cheer up and console Katie, who is crying because of some abuse she has received.

The LGBTIQ minority are not represented in the novel, and indeed gays come in for quite a bit of bigoted humour. Much of this, however, arises because of George and Lanyon’s insecurities about their own masculinity. This could have been balanced, though, by including a positively described cameo of a gay character.

The aged are completely absent from the text, but this is not a great surprise as Backward Compatible is a Young Adult / New Adult novel. Once again one cameo appearance could have been included to represent this much ignored minority. It is certainly true that the age can make a positive contribution to the lives of young people.

In the terms of the Capitalist / Socialist debate there can be no doubt that Backward Compatible lies firmly in the Capitalist camp. Both George and Katie live an alternate lifestyle and are hard up for money, but they are able to do this because of the largesse of their parents. Neither of them, nor Lanyon, works during their winter break. Indeed, they do not even attempt to find work. All three attend university because of the generosity of their parents. Katie, indeed, goes to a highly expensive college. Also, much of the second half of the novel revolves around an attempt to win $10,000. This is clearly a capitalist motivation. Nonetheless, at one point in the story Katie clearly states that she does not wish to own lots of products, and that money is not important to her. Also, George drives a car which is old and perpetually breaking down. His parents have not gifted him with an expensive new vehicle. Clearly this book will appeal to middle class and upper class readers.

The novel is quite sound in psychological terms. Indeed, the split narration allows Daltry and Clarke to illustrate the concept of “mind reading”. In Cognitive Behaviour Therapy this is a classic error in thinking in which an individual imagines that they can read the thoughts in another person’s head. Usually the individual imagines the other person is thinking of them negatively, in reality this is simply not true. (Sarah Edelman. Change Your Thinking: overcome stress, combat anxiety and depression and improve your life with CBT: New York, N.Y.: Marlowe, 2007, p. 53) Both Katie and George engage in mind reading when in fact the other is thinking of them quite positively.

Backward Compatible is an endearing and humorous romp that will particularly entertain young adults, but also, more broadly, the young at heart. The Katie / George split narrative means that the book will appeal to both male and female readers. While the novel is centred in Y generation culture, the themes of romance and family are universal, and will appeal to many. I am happy to rate this book as 4 stars out of 5.

References

Caltry, Sarah & Clark, Peter. Backward Compatible: a geek love story:__ Smashwords ed.:__ Los Gatos, C.A.: Smashwords, c2013.

Edelman, Sarah. Change Your Thinking: overcome stress, combat anxiety and depression and improve your life with CBT: New York, N.Y.: Marlowe, 2007.

http://goo.gl/tTgTVO Backward Compatible (Kindle ed.)