Path To My African Eyes by Ermila Moodley

Thandie has just moved with her parents from South Africa to the United States after her father receives a teaching position at a California university. Thandie has a rough beginning as her family adjusts to the changes. She starts school in a new new country in the middle of the school year and is immediately faced with comments and questions about Africa, which she finds to be ridiculous since they are usually rooted in ignorance, and even more difficult to answer.  Balancing being a teenager and finding friends while also attempting to keep up with  the social and cultural differences of being black and African in the Unites States is not easy, especially when Thandie has barely decided for herself who it is she wants to be.

I was excited to come across this novel, because I have not seen many books that have dealt with this particular subject matter, and I felt like the author did a great job in expressing the turmoil and the anguish which Thandie feels being pulled in so many different directions.  In this novel, you get a glimpse of what life is like for the black middle class in South Africa and the way they viewed people in the townships and the tribal communities.  There is a hierarchy there, and the middle class have great access to American culture as a whole, which Thandie has studied and wants to experience.  She wants to be a California beach girl. She is frustrated with the greater segregation and the lack of understanding she experiences with both black and white teenagers in the United States, when she had close friends of both races at home. She finds herself enmeshed in layers of what is accepted as black and white “behavior” and how that translates into who she is and can have as her friends.

I liked the way school and parents were a big part of this novel.  A lot of times in YA, both seem to be a backdrop to be overlooked or explained away, but equal parts of the action in this novel included school and all that entails (classes, teachers, and homework assignments) and Thandie’s parents.  She is close to them and that loving relationship is on full display, but they are also a source of some of the conflict driving the story.  Thandie is at times at odds with her parents who have grown up in the midst of active rebellion and struggles for the rights to be citizens of their country and the world.  Thandie clashes with them in ideas of who she needs to be to fit into the culture that exists for her as a teenager.  I was rooting for her to find a line that she could walk comfortably and though I understood her parents, I loved watching her navigate and explore different options as she begins to choose for herself.

This novel was a pleasure to find and a joy to read.  Thandie is a great character struggling with all the drama and emotion of being a teenager and there are many poignant moments as she does this. Moodley gracefully explores the pressure of moving to a new country, and the difficulty of being young and finding your way in a new culture while grappling with personal and racial identities.  I am looking forward to reading more from this author.


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