Book Review: The Good Braider by Terry Farish

Viola and her family live in Sudan until the war-torn country’s turmoil forces them out.  With her mother and brother, Viola moves to Cairo before finally arriving in Portland, Maine.  While Viola dreams of Sudan, she struggles with the differences she faces in America.  Her mother also struggles, as she is a traditional Sudanese woman at heart.  How will Viola manage to adapt to her new world when she feels the pull of her old country so strongly?

There’s a lot happening in Terry Farish’s sparse verse novel that readers will find appealing.  Although verse novels won’t work for every reader, this one is accessible, beautiful, and quite moving. It’s also a fairly accurate historical account of life in Southern Sudan at the end of the last millennium.

Viola’s beautiful narration propels the story.  Whether she is in Juba or Portland, her surroundings become very real and almost palpable.  Her struggles with culture shock and clashing ideals are authentic, frustrating, and sensitively handled.  Although the readers never get to know any of the other characters as well as they do Viola, there are likable elements to be found in each of them.

Perhaps what is most refreshing is the fact that there are no outside saviors working to enlighten Viola or her family.  All of the help comes from within the Sudanese community, and Viola’s strength ultimately comes from her culture.  This is a nuanced verse novel and probably is best suited for sophisticated readers, but it’s a good read and would work particularly well in a social studies classroom.

The Good Braider by Terry Farish. Marshall Cavendish: 2012. Read for the Cybils 2012 Round 1 Panel.  Library copy.

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