Sunday, July 20, 2008

Chanda's Secrets by Allan Stratton

I was very moved by this novel and am not surprised that it was a Prinz honor award winner. I loved the character of Chanda, I thought she was smart and determined, I really came to care for and believe in her. I loved that she had the courage to face the situation and overcomes the secrecy and shame associated with the disease. I wanted to know more about her and what happens to her. I realized that there is a sequel to the novel titled Chanda's War, which picks up 6 months after her mother's death and centers around a civil war in their country and rebels invading their village. I am anxious to read it. I also liked the character of Esther! And was thrilled that Chanda was willing to stick by her friend. I also liked that she had the courage to be tested for AIDS.

I felt the description of the situation in modern-day Africa was extremely vivid and convincing. I don't know that students would realize right away that the setting of the story is contemporary...they might need some background information regarding this before reading the story. Is this an issue they deal with in Global II? Maybe Cathy P. could answer that? I thought the connection to the diamond minds might trigger something in the students...since they may have seen the movie Blood Diamonds. I think this is an excellent book for the Global II book list.

Again, I thought the author did an excellent job describing life in this African village- the horrific conditions the family lives in, and the poverty and the devastion of AIDS victims comes across very clearly. I felt this was the strongest part of the novel. I was surprised to learned, after I read the book, that the country depicted in the novel is fictional. I was disappointed, then thought that this was probably a tool the author used to make a point...that AIDS is a tremendous problem throughout all of Africa...that it is not limited to one country.

Overall I felt the book brings to light a topic that is definitely ignored in our society. I thought the ending was perhaps a bit too pat...her neighbors, especially Mrs. Tafa, all quickly coming out in the open in support seemed a bit unrealistic. But I'm a sucker for an ending like that so I liked it. I bit different than StarGirl! :-) Anxious to see what you all thought.


Cathy said...

I Loved the book. I felt it was an accurate discription of Africa. It was similar in its discription of Africa to the Number 1 detective series. Both books show how the women of Africa have to cope. It is a sad fact that in many African countries AIDS is considered a "secret" so that it was not treated, or talked about. In some countries they think that the a cure is to be with a virgin which is increasing the idea of sex with children. education is so important. Chanda knowing she needed to get an education was shown many times in the book. SO many Africans are not educated and the "doctors" like in the book can take advantage of this illiteracy to tout cures that do not exist. Mrs. Tafa although in a superior social setting was illiterate. The ending did not surprise me about Mrs. Tafa.Chanda's mother swa the good in her and left her children to be taken care of by her. We saw her through Chanda's eyes but she was a good friend to Chanda's mother and took her responsibilities to heart. It would be interesting to know if this book is read in Africa.
I think that this book is good for Global II students and could be read by my students as well.
I would like to read the sequel. Do we have it at school?

cvanslyk said...

I loved this book and would encourage our students to read it. Chanda was a remarkable young woman. She was mature way beyond her years and had a strong loyalty to family and friends. The secrecy surrounding their lives was incredibly sad. She took on responsibilities willingly and capably. She always tried to stay positive and in control. It was interesting that she used the alphabet to make her mind go blank when she was getting upset. She certainly had enough to get upset about but this repetition seemed to help her. Many of the characters in this story were very honorable even though they didn't always seem that way. I started out being angry at Lillian for not taking on the adult responsibilities in their family. An example of this was when Chanda had to make the funeral arrangements for Sara. Another was when she just disappeared and left Chanda in charge of the household. After Chanda found her, it became evident that her motivation was not selfish. It was to keep her secret. Mrs. Tafa was wonderful even though Chanda was often annoyed by her. She was a very loyal friend and was always there to help. I liked the way that Stratton developed some of the more minor characters in the book. Mr. Bateman, the funeral director, tried to help Chanda and was likable. Mr Selalame, the teacher who was always supportive to Chanda, was honerable as well. I loved Esther and the friendship and loyalty that she showed to Chanda and to her siblings. Chanda was totally altruistic and sets an excellent example for our students to follow. This was an outstanding book and could easily be used for discussions in the classroom. The themes of friendship, loyalty, injustice, ignorance about AIDS, and secrecy are topics our students would be interested in. I agree with Cathy and would like to read the seques.

Kathy J. said...

We do have the sequals in the HS Library! I'll be happy to set them aside for anyone interested.

I agree with Charlene- I really do like the way that the Stratton develops the minor characters. I mentioned Esther, but the funeral director, Chanda's teacher, and even some of the people in the village really make the story much richer. And, I have to say, after reading the comments thus far I think I am even warming up to Mrs. Tafa...I am seeing her in a different light.

And I thought Cathy's point about the illiteracywas interesting as well.

Dawn said...

Chanda’s Secret was a great book. I would highly recommend it to anyone looking for a good read. From the very beginning it caught my attention, and I didn’t want to put it down because I wanted to know what was going to happen to many characters. I feel that the level of the book was suitable for high school age students and that it would generate great discussions about multiple topics.

One can’t help but feel for Chanda. She has been through so much in her life. I can’t imagine losing my father and then handling all the other relationships that her mother gets into over time. Ultimately one of those relationships ends up killing her mother too, which makes it even harder to accept. I often wonder what route Chanda’s life would have taken if her father did not die. Would her mother still be alive? Would she be as strong of a person, or would her personality change due to her life experiences?

I did feel that many people in the town knew a lot about HIV and AIDS, so I did not understand why they did not learn or know more about prevention and precautions to take against the disease? Also, I understand that many women turn to prostitution to earn money for their families, which brings on a whole new set of dangers and issues. I understand that the people were living in poverty too, which makes me sad to think about how prostitution pays more than an average/normal/legal job. Ester’s story is very upsetting because she wanted good things for herself and her family. She had to take such drastic measures to try to obtain her goals.

I would love to read the next book too. I already feel for Chanda from this book, so I can’t imagine what the next one will be about. The title alone makes me question how much more one person can handle. Count me in for reading that one too.

Kim Seeley said...

I also LOVED this book! I feel that the students of today need to be better educated against AIDS. When I was younger, that was all we used to hear about. I feel that it is not stressed enough in today's society. It was a very emotional book and had me feeling so bad for Chanda and her family. The emotions that Stratton develops the characters and their feelings. Once again, this would be a great book to use cross-curriculums. Cathy, maybe we could do something with my 15:1 self contained English students and your Global? Let's chat! Great pick Kathy.

Rebecca Kennedy said...

I also really enjoyed this book. It was a great choice I couldn't put it down. The author did a great job of endearing all of the characters to the reader even the minor ones. I loved Chanda's strength and willingness to stand up for what she felt was right time and time again. I can not imagine having to deal with even a fraction of what she had to in her young life.

I think that this book discuss a topic in a way that is captivating. Students will enjoy it and it would be great to use in the Global curriculum. I will definitely recommend this book.

Maria said...

WOW! I really liked this book. I think it portrayed the struggles of young adults facing poverty, responsibility, and an epidemic. I got a true sense of the fear Chanda felt facing life without her mother and questioning her abilities to run a family at 16 years old. What an eye opener for American 16 year olds to see what difficulties other kids face around the world. I also liked how it connected to Stargirl in the sense that Chanda had to choose between conforming to the expectations of her neighbors or doing what was right. In the end, she rose above the expectation and followed her heart to do what was right for herself and her family by facing the tragedy that AIDS caused in her life. In addition to the AIDS issue, the problems of poverty, illiteracy, and cultural issues were well described. It brought the reader to the setting in Africa, which helped the reader feel the pressures put on young teens and the desperation they face each day just to survive. It really shows us how much we Americans take for granted including health care and education. Overall, this was a great read!!!!

Kathy J. said...


Thanks for pointing out the connection between the two books...I missed that, but now that you mention it, it is very obvious!

chris klafehn said...

I loved the book as well. I am very interested in reading the sequel. Despite poverty, illness and a nosey neighbor Chanda came through as a responsible strong young lady. I felt the situation described in Africa was accurate. I agree Kim the 15:1 students would enjoy the story. Who knows perhaps they would read the sequel on their own.

Maria said...

A lot of you mentioned Esther. I think Esther's story is almost more tragic in that, because of the disease, her family was torn apart with no regard to their ages and feelings. She tried to keep her siblings together, but the other family members could not afford it and would not allow it. I thought that chapter really depicted how the disease and poverty affects how these families have to deal in order to survive - they take in who they can and who can work and contribute to the family. The extended family had no use for Esther. That seemed to be the downfall for her. I really felt for her because she was left with no family and she was not wanted. Prostitution paid bills and also filled her need to be wanted and to get positive attention (in her mind). This is typical for a teenaged girl, yet it was tragic for Esther. The reader really wants things to go well for her as the story ends, yet there is still a small feeling of doom for her, which contrasts with Chanda's character.

rebeccakryger said...

I loved Chanda's Secret. I think the setting is one that many students are not exposed to very much, and the AIDS epidemic in Africa is an important current issue. Chandra was very well-developed; she felt realistic--which is something I thought was lacking in Stargirl.

One scene that was especially vivid was when Chanda's step-father was dropped off in front of the house. It was tragic how everyone deserted him.

The only point in the novel that felt a little forced was the story of Mrs. Tafa's son. The whole "hunting accident" was a strange cover, although I guess it was the norm to create an alternative story instead of being truthful about having AIDS as was the case for Esther's parents. I felt so sorry for Esther.

Overall, a great read. I would definitely recommend this to my students.

Jen said...

It is funny to read all of the blogs. Almost everyone said they loved this book in the first line. I, too, really liked this book. I love the fact that it is mostly a female novel. I think of it as a female coming of age novel.
I notice that while the reading level seems fairly middle level, the language can be beautiful and poetic. The fact that AIDS is the main topic, a topic not easy to talk about in the classroom, is a great bonus for this book as well.
I continue to see the connections that English and Social Studies could make with some of these books that we read for this blog. The humanities approach is embraced in many schools. I have heard that Brockport had an English and Social Studies teacher who worked together, but that was many years ago. At the very least, curriculum mapping could be a great consideration for us in the English and Social Studies departments. We spend a lot of time creating compartments for our students, when maybe would should be spending that energy showing them the connections. Oh, I am getting carried away here.
Specifically, one part of the novel that will stay with me is on page 62 when Chanda says, "(Mama's too kind to say so, but the real reason is Auntie's club foot. Building huts, fetching water, and chasing children keeps wives on their feet, especially at cattle posts. The two men in Tiro were just being practical. Or maybe they didn't like the idea of being stuck with a toad. Those are hard truths for Aunt Lizbert to swallow. Instead she blames her life on Mama. Does bad luck make people miserable? Or do miserable people bring bad luck?)" This quote strikes me on many levels. I would use this as a teaching tool to discuss how much control we think we have as Americans and how American women have really made strides in having control (or thinking they do) We are fortunate in our society to have as many advantages as we do.

I really enjoyed this book and will recommend this book to students.