One Shadow on the Wall by Leah Henderson (June 2017, Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 438 pages, for ages 8 to 12)
Synopsis (from the publisher): Eleven-year-old Mor was used to hearing his father’s voice, even if no one else could since his father’s death. It was comforting. It was also a reminder that Mor had made a promise to his father before he passed: keep your sisters safe. Keep the family together. But almost as soon as they are orphaned, that promise seems impossible to keep. With an aunt from the big city ready to separate him and his sisters as soon as she arrives, and a gang of boys from a nearby village wanting everything he has—including his spirit—Mor is tested in ways he never imagined. With only the hot summer months to prove himself, Mor must face a choice. Does he listen to his father and keep his heart true, but risk breaking his promise through failure? Or is it easier to just join the Danka Boys, whom in all their maliciousness are at least loyal to their own?
Why I recommend it: I had the honor of meeting and getting to know Leah when I attended the first Novels in Verse workshop at Highlights in May 2016. Note, though, that this is not a novel in verse. This book was already in the works before I met her. What I remember most about Leah from that magical week is her vibrant, infectious laughter. She's also a world traveler, and her travels inspire her stories.
|Leah Henderson, from her website|
But even if I didn't know Leah, I'd still highly recommend this heartwarming and beautifully-crafted coming of age tale. Yes, it sounds long for MG, but Mor's story will soak into you like the hot Senegalese sun and you'll finish reading it before you want to let go. Mor and the other characters are fully fleshed out, the plot abounds with twists and turns, and the language is exquisite. One Shadow on the Wall is a stunning debut and I can't wait to see what Leah Henderson writes next.
Favorite lines: "But the thought would not rest, like an overturned beetle trying to right itself. It kicked and kicked at Mor's brain." (from p. 95)
Bonus: Besides being the kind of novel that deserves to win awards, this book is an excellent choice for libraries and classrooms. I learned a great deal about the culture, language, and food of Senegal. But more importantly, I got to know and understand one peace-loving Muslim family, who vow to stay together, no matter what.
Learn more about Leah Henderson on her website
Follow Leah on Twitter