The City of Saints and Thieves by Natalie C. Anderson is a lively tale of a spunky girl who trains as a master thief and creates a set of rules to survive as an orphaned refugee after her mother is killed. As a thief in the Goodnas gang, Christina aka Tiny has an opportunity to search the house where she once lived and where her mother was murdered. She is caught by a childhood friend, Michael, the son of the man Tiny thinks killed her mother. To prove his father’s innocence, Michael embarks on the journey with Tina to find out who murdered her mother. The novel is an interesting coming of age story as the children uncover secrets from the past, face choices their parents made, all while trying to establish their own identity.
The chapters in three-fourths of the book begin with a succinct rule.However, like other young people who come up against the complexity of life, Tina runs out of rules for the traumatic situations she finds herself navigating while discovering difficult truths. Tiny’s first rule, if you are going to be a thief, you don’t exist, creates a striking comparison between thieves and refugees—to be successful at either one, you cannot exist. Some middle and high school readers will connect to this feeling of not existing. Unfortunately the metaphor of “not existing” is woven into the setting of the book. “Sangui City,” — an imaginary town that the author created and situated between the Democratic Republic of Congo and Kenya — perches precariously on unstable foundations. Imposing fictionalized places in Africa among complex events, smacks of colonialism and harks back to the colonial rewriting of political boundaries.Despite this weakness, The City of Saints and Thieves has many strengths including a zesty, fast-paced plot driven by a strong girl character wading her way through wartime horrors, economic disparity, vestiges of colonialism, greed, sexual slavery, gender politics and mining greed in the Congo. The book could be used in the classroom — with thoughtful teacher guidance — to build knowledge and critical thinking skills about these very real issues.
Reviewed by Deborah Jane, M.A. University of Minnesota
Published in Africa Access Review (April 25, 2018)
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