This adventure story feels more on the Y end than the A end of YA, but with some thrills and dangers that might be scary for littler readers.
The three children of General Matsika – brave Tendai, the oldest at 13, assertive sister Rita, and four-year-old Kuda – are not allowed to leave the family compound. They have everything they could ever need, including fancy futuristic school lessons and a live-in Praise Singer who acts as tutor and babysitter. Their father has spent his career rooting out gang activity in Zimbabwe, and he’s convinced that the children will certainly be kidnapped if they’re ever allowed out. However, Tendai desperately wants to earn his Adventure badge from the Scouts, by – gasp! – riding a city bus! So one day, the three siblings sneak out, planning to be back before their parents are home from work. They are, naturally, promptly kidnapped.
The children are passed from one fraught situation to the next, surviving by their wits and learning valuable lessons along the way. They’re forced to work in the plastic mines (in the future, plastic bowls and plates are a novelty), kept in quarantine by a ‘helpful’ old lady who isn’t keeping them for a ransom at all, taught the ways of the ancestors in an M. Night Shyamalan Village-type situation, and sought after by the Masks, the last, worst gang that the General has not been able to stamp out. They learn to be compassionate, to depend on each other, and all sorts of other horizon-widening things.
Through it all, they are tracked by Eye, Ear, and Arm, three detectives who have physical challenges and gifts from being born too close to a radioactive site. Eye has oversized eyeballs and excellent eyesight, Ear can unfurl his ears like Dumbo and hear a gnat in a thunderstorm, and Arm is long and skinny, gets compared to a spider a lot, and is an empath and a bit of a psychic.
This review already feels longer than the book! There’s a lot of interesting folk tales and history, with spirits and ancestors assisting the children along the way. I really liked the section where they were at Resthaven, the village where people chose to live as the ancestors did, with no holophones or technology. Tendai was accepted into the group of village boys, and allowed to eat with the men. Rita had to look after the tribe’s babies, do dishes, and help serve the menfolk (her brother included!). It was very eye-opening for Tendai to see how different things were back then, and why some people might not want to go back to the “good ol’ days.”
It’s a fun little book! I picked it because of the sci-fi elements, but there really isn’t much of that present, besides a few technological advances and references to the distant past when humans were ruining the planet. If you’re looking for a “kids versus the world” story, this is a pretty good one.