Thursday 2 December 2010

Review: Abela: The Girl Who Saw Lions - Berlie Doherty

This review is part of HIV/AIDS in YA Lit Week organised by Caroline from Portrait of a Woman.  For more information check out Caroline's post here

Orphaned in Africa, abandoned in England; will Abela ever find her place in the world?

'Be strong, my Abela.'  These are the last words of Abela's mother in their HIV / AIDS stricken African village, where it seems that to live or to die, to be sick or to be healthy, is just a matter of chance.  It takes all Abela's strength to survive her Uncle Thomas's scheming to get to Europe, but what will be her fate as an illegal immigrant?

'I don't want a sister or a brother,' thinks Rosa in England, when her mother tells her that she wants to adopt a child.  Could these two girls ever become sisters?  Is there room in Rosa's family for an African orphan haunted by lions?  Is there room in their hearts?

Visit Berlie Doherty's website for more information

Abela is just 9 years old and she has already lost her father, mother and baby sister to the AIDS epidemic that is sweeping through her village in Tanzania.  With her uncle scheming to get back to England she soon finds herself living in a strange country with a virtual stranger and her life will never be the same again.  At 13 Rosa is the only child of a single mother living in Sheffield.  When her mother announces that she wants to adopt a child from Africa she is horrified - why would her mother want another daughter?  Isn't she good enough?  Can Rosa come to terms with the idea of someone else joining her family and will Abela be able to get away from her Uncle and his plans for her?

As I reviewed this book as part of a campaign to raise awareness about HIV & AIDS to coincide with World AIDS Day I'm going to kick off the review talking about the beginning of the story while Abela is still in Africa.  Berlie Doherty paints a vivid picture of life in Tanzania and does a great job of showing just how devastating the AIDS epidemic has been in Abela's village.  Abela and her mother face a long and difficult journey just to get to the nearest hospital and the scenes when they get there brought tears to my eyes.  It was heartbreaking to think that this is probably a reality that thousands are still facing every day.

The story is told from both Abela and Rosa's perspectives in alternating chapters.  I have to say I found the switches between first & third person a little confusing at first but it didn't take me too long to get used to the writing style.  At first I found myself getting very annoyed with Rosa and her selfish attitude towards adopting another child - especially when you're comparing her easy life to the hell that Abela is facing so stoically - but then I started thinking about how I would have reacted myself at her age and in her situation.  I think her reaction was probably quite realistic and I enjoyed watching her thought process as she came to terms with the idea.  Rosa really does a lot of growing up by the end of the story.  Abela quickly earned a place in my heart, she has been through so much in her short life that it makes you desperate to see a happy ending for her.  I think my only slight complaint about the story would be that I would have liked to have seen the ending through her eyes rather than Rosa's - I wanted to know what she thought of the situation she ended up in.  That is only a minor issue though and definitely not worth making a big issue over.

Abela: The Girl Who Saw Lions touches on a lot of interesting topics that I've not come across much in YA fiction obviously AIDS being one of them but also child abuse, trafficking, immigration, fostering, adoption and multicultural families.  It is a story that will break your heart into a thousand tiny pieces and although by the end it will put you back together again it will change you forever in the process.  I'd highly recommend the story for both adults and teens and am definitely going to be looking out for more of Berlie Doherty's books in the future.

Source: Library

Other Reviews:
If you have reviewed this book on your blog please leave a link to your review in the comments & I'll add the link here.


  1. This sounds like an absolutely heart-breaking book! Great review :)

  2. Thanks Chrissie, this was a great book but very sad in places. Definitely worth reading though :o)

  3. hii! I love the review you wrote! i'm just wondering....what is your favourite part of the novel? what did the author want us to learn about? ^^

  4. Hi Bobby, that's a really interesting question :o) I definitely enjoyed Abela's side of the story more than Rosa's but both view points were well written. There were quite a lot of themes covered in the book but I suppose the main one was probably about adopting a child into your family, especially one from a different country.

  5. hey sarah i just wanted to know when this book was set as in 2000 or 2004??

  6. Sorry but I don't remember the author saying what year the book was set in. I think it was published in 2008 though if that is any help? You could try contacting the author or checking their website for more information



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