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Review: The Boy Next Door, Irene Sabatini

The last white family on her street in Zimbabwe lives next to Lindiwe Bishop’s family.  One night, the house catches on fire, killing one woman and badly injuring another.  The culprit, teenager Ian McKenzie, is sent to prison for a year.  Lindiwe is still fascinated by him, and astonished when, on his return a year later, he begins inviting her along for car rides.  Spanning the 1980s and 90s, this is not only a book about Zimbabwe in transition, but about love that is surprisingly realistic.

At first, I found it surprisingly difficult to get into this book.  I’m not very familiar with Zimbabwe’s history and apparently they just changed over from Zimbabwe-Rhodesia, and the characters carry a lot of angst about Independence and the fate of their country.  I recognized the name of Robert Mugabe, but I couldn’t remember why.  I was unfamiliar with all of the slang, too.  So I had a few pages of wading through something I thought I was bound to dislike.  But, of course, then I got used to the slang and figured out what everything meant, the characters stopped complaining so much about history and instead the history was described in the book so I could understand, and Lindiwe met Ian.

Typically the love story was what made this book for me.  I don’t want to give too much away but it’s obvious that something is going to Happen between Lindiwe and Ian from the very start of the book when she keeps his picture from a newspaper clipping.  It does, and it is really beautiful, but it’s also realistic.  Sometimes love isn’t good enough, and they have struggles, but they had me cheering for them from the very beginning.  Their relationship takes work, as does their relationship with another person who comes into the story a little later.

The transformation of Zimbabwe was also fascinating.  Wikipedia told me what was going to happen in that respect, but seeing it through the characters’ eyes was totally different.  The city of Lindiwe’s girlhood, with the rich houses well-kept and the main street full of delicious restaurants and places to play, becomes a poor ghost town by the time she becomes an adult.  White people were once welcomed and then become scarce.  Reading through the book gave me a real sense of the change that was happening and the frustration that the people of Zimbabwe felt.

I must also admit that I was quite pleased to see that Little, Brown chose to put Lindiwe on the cover instead of Ian.  I know books for adults are probably less white-washed but it’s undeniably pleasing to see at least part of a gorgeous black woman when they could have chosen the white guy.

In the end, The Boy Next Door was a great book and I’m so glad I read it.  I learned a little (the author grew up in Zimbabwe so I felt she probably knew what she was talking about) and I loved the story.  I think knowing a little about Zimbabwe before starting is a good idea, though!

I am an Amazon Associate. I received this book from the publisher for free.

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