Thursday, July 28, 2011

Alexandria of Africa - Book Review

Title: Alexandria of Africa

Author: Eric Walters

Release Date: September 9th, 2008
Format/Page Count: Paperback, 200 pages
Publisher: Doubleday Canada
Purchased: Blue Heron Books Uxbridge, Ontario

Synopsis: For Alexandria Hyatt having a fabulous life is easy: she knows what she wants and she knows how to get it. Being glamorous and rich is simply what she was born to be. When Alexandria is arrested for shoplifting, having to drag herself into court to face a judge just seems like a major inconvenience. But Alexandria has been in trouble before–and this time she can’t find a way to scheme out of the consequences. Before she knows it, she’s on a plane headed to Kenya where she has been ordered to work for an international charity. Over 7,000 miles away from home with no hot water, no cell phone reception, no friends or family, Alexandria is confronted with a land as unfamiliar as it is unsettling. Over the course of her month in Africa, Alexandria will face a reality she could never have imagined, and will have to look inside herself to see if she has what it takes to confront it.

Expectation: I had high hopes for this story. Having been to Kenya, I was looking for a read that would take me back there...if only in my imagination. I have to admit that this is a heavy burden for a book to carry!

Market/Genre: Young Adult - Contemporary


Alexandria of Africa is written in first person, from Alexandria's point of view. Interestingly enough, Alexandria is not very likeable. She's actually quite terrible. She steals for kicks. She lies. She's in trouble with the law and doesn't understand why everybody won't just leave her alone.

The story opens in California, with Alexandria facing a judge for a second offense. She is so blasé the reader wants to reach into the pages and smack her. Such is her sense of entitlement. Walters does a wonderful job of taking us right to the brink of unrest in the way we feel for the narrator. The reader wants to see Alexandria receive just punishment not only for her actions but also for her outlook on the world around her.

Although she does receive a sentence, it's not the one the reader would like. In lieu of a stay in a youth detention centre, Alexandria is sentenced to a work program in Kenya. The reader becomes more angry as we are privy to Alexandria's constant inner dialogue of entitlement. But we know she's in for a rude awakening...or a blossoming, if you will. Walters sets all the signposts for that eventual enlightenment with dead accuracy, through the experiences Alexandria faces along the way.

This poor little rich girl is a slow learner. As she meets the people she will work with in Kenya, she stubbornly finds fault with them where others would see good. The turning point doesn't happen when Alexandria is put to work in the sweltering heat of Africa. That, I think, is what makes Walters' storytelling so fine. He could have taken the easy route and made Alexandria open her eyes when she saw the work that needed to be done for these people less privileged than her. But she didn't. She did everything to make it look like she was working, when in fact she was slacking off...thinking about nails and clothes and cars and home.

Enter Ruth, a Maasai girl who takes Alexandria in to the world of her small village. It is an eye-opening experience for Alexandria that shaves some of the sharper corners off of this unlikeable character. The outcome of Alexandria's journey is a fulfilling one for the reader, who was beginning to think there was no way she would compromise her spoiled rich-girl outlook on life.

To tell you more would be to reveal more spoilers than I already have revealed. I'll just say that Walters wrote a fine story of personal growth that doesn't come off as being too preachy or lesson oriented. He manages to make the reader dislike his narrator to the point where they seek her failure. But he also manages to subtly make that character open to the possibility of change.

This was a pleasant read. It brought me back to the wonderful country of Kenya. It also helped to shed light not only on the plight of some of the country's poorest people, but also on the wonderful spirit they have in the face of that plight. I happily recommend this book. If you have been to Africa, it will skillfully take you back there. If you have will allow you to see it as acurately as any book can.

Expectation met and exceeded.

Size: 4

Welcome to my Book Review Blog!

Welcome. If you're here, I hope it's because you have a love of the written word.

Although I am a slow reader, I am going to try my hand at book reviewing. I love books and I love sharing my thoughts on the books I love. I will attempt to post my reviews in a timely fashion and in a uniform manner. Please see below for the format you can expect to find all reviews:

Release Date:
Format/Page Count:
Expectation: What I hope for before beginning the book.
Size: This is where I will rank the books I read. Instead of STARS I will give each book a size. Size 1 being the lowest ranking and size 5 being the highest ranking (Okay, it's exactly like stars without the got me).

Simple as that. I will be posting my first review shortly and hope to continue at a pace of at least 1 review every two weeks.