Kaleidoscope Song by Fox Benwell is a thought-provoking and enjoyable young adult novel about love, acceptance and heartbreak. Neo, the main character, is a young woman from Khayelitsha, South Africa who is discovering her sexuality. She comes from a protective and hardworking family that instills traditional values of what it means to be a young woman in post-apartheid South Africa. Against the wishes of her family, Neo pursues her love for music and aspirations to host a radio show. Neo attends a local music show with her friend Janet and almost immediately falls for, Tale, the lead singer of the band performing. The two form a beautiful relationship through self-discovery and a shared love for music.
The forbidden relationship between the two young women develops quickly and they do everything in their power to not be found out. They face the difficult decision of wanting to be true to themselves but at the same time survive in a community that doesn’t accept them.
Neo gets the opportunity to host her own radio show at the local station where her father works as security. Through the internship and her relationship with Tale, Neo finds her voice in both music and speaking about LGBTQ issues. Simultaneously, people in town start to spread rumors about Neo’s sexuality after she speaks out on Pride and is seen with Tale. Just as they start to feel comfortable with their relationship, Neo and Tale get caught in a tragic situation that will affect them for the rest of their lives.
The main characters are dynamic and complex adding to the authenticity of the novel, although I do wish there was further character development for some of the minor characters.
The novel provides insight on how expectations from others can make one feel so inadequate and the importance of finding a community that accepts you.
This young adult novel is an easy read, raw, authentic, heartbreaking and yet approached difficult topics such as corrective rape and death in a well- written manner. Educators who are using this in the classroom should be aware that parts of the novel could be triggering for youth that identify as LGBTQI+ and for those who have (or know people who have) experienced violence because of their gender or sexual preference and orientation.
In the author’s note, Benwell acknowledges the privilege of being a white, British, queer author writing from a young, black South African, queer experience. Also included in the author’s note is an overview of the complexity of LGBTQ issues in South Africa. The author provides resources for those struggling with the topics addressed in the novel as well as resources for those who have experienced abuse.
Kaleidoscope Song is highly recommended for young adults who can handle mature topics.
Reviewed by Nqobile Mthethwa, Teaching for Change
Published in Africa Access Review (March 19, 2018)
Copyright 2018 Africa Access