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Review: This Thing Called the Future by J.L. Powers

Monday, June 13, 2011
5 Stars: An Incredible Read
Hardcover: 208 Pages
Publication: April 12, 2011 by Cinto Puntos Press

Khosi lives with her beloved grandmother Gogo, her little sister Zi, and her weekend mother in a matchbox house on the outskirts of Pietermaritzburg, South Africa. In that shantytown, it seems like somebody is dying all the time. Billboards everywhere warn of the disease of the day. Her Gogo goes to a traditional healer when there is trouble, but her mother, who works in another city and is wasting away before their eyes, refuses even to go to the doctor. She is afraid and Khosi doesn't know what it is that makes the blood come up from her choking lungs. Witchcraft? A curse? AIDS? Can Khosi take her to the doctor? Gogo asks. No, says Mama, Khosi must stay in school. Only education will save Khosi and Zi from the poverty and ignorance of the old Zulu ways.

School, though, is not bad. There is a boy her own age there, Little Man Ncobo, and she loves the color of his skin, so much darker than her own, and his blue-black lips, but he mocks her when a witch's curse, her mother's wasting sorrow, and a neighbor's accusations send her and Gogo scrambling off to the sangoma's hut in search of a healing potion.

J.L. Powers holds an MA in African history from State University of New York-Albany and Stanford University. She won a Fulbright-Hays grant to study Zulu in South Africa, and served as a visiting scholar in Stanford's African Studies Department. This is her second novel for young adults.

This Thing Called the Future by J.L. Powers is a powerful and moving coming-of-age story about Khosi, a fourteen-year-old girl living in a modern South African shantytown. It seems like someone is dying all the time, and billboards hang everywhere, warning people about AIDS. Many people believe that it is a curse. As a young adolescent, Khosi finds herself attracting unwanted attention by men interested in her body, especially one particular drunk who seems to have taken an unpleasant interest in her. There is also the witch on the hill who claims that she’ll come for Khosi one day.

Khosi is just like any other teenage girl. She only wants to find the right guy, someone her age—someone like Little Man Ncobo who seems to be developing a mutual interest in her. She wants to get an education, but her wishes don’t seem possible considering how poor her family is. Then her family’s next-door neighbor claims that Khosi’s mama stole from her, and Khosi’s mama comes home sick one day.

I love how J.L. Powers tackles the issue of the reconciliation of traditional belief with modern ideals. Khosi is caught between Gogo (her grandmother), who believes in both God and the traditional ways, and Mama, who believes in God and science. She loves her biology class, but she always believes in her ancestors. There’s also Little Man, who doesn’t know how to feel about Khosi’s supernatural beliefs.

Powers brings Khosi’s character to life through her desires to protect her family and to be accepted along with her beliefs in God, science, and her people’s traditions. At the same time, Khosi begins receiving dreams from her ancestors that her about danger coming to the family, and she must learn to wield the powers of her ancestors and herself in order to stand up for herself and her family. So she can be the person who she wants to be: strong and independent, like her mama.

This Thing Called the Future is a story filled with culture that teaches you to appreciate family, love, and faith.  You learn that not everything is what it seems to be and that your strongest support will always come from your family, both dead and living, and that you must believe in your own powers. Even with her family and Little Man to back her, Khosi must learn to trust in herself and strengthen her heart as she decides whether or not she possesses the power not only to forget her anger and forgive both the living and the dead.

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I received a copy of this book from the author through Goodreads.
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