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Out of Shadows

July 9, 2010

Out of Shadows by Jason Wallace
Andersen Press, March 1, 2010

If I stood you in front of a man, pressed a gun into your palm and told you to squeeze the trigger, would you do it?
No, Sir, No way!
What if I then told you we’d gone back in time and his name was Adolf Hitler?
Would you do it then?

This question is posed in Out of the Shadows, a dark, thought provoking historical novel for young adults that closely explores people’s motivations for violence and evil. Though this was a quick read for me, I suspect parts of the story will continue to gnaw at me, sticking in my memory for a long time.

Robert Jacklin is 13 when, in 1983, he is uprooted from his home in England and moved to Zimbabwe. This young nation has gained independence from British colonial rule, and power has shifted from the whites to members of the Shone tribe. Robert Mugabe has come to power, riding a wave of popular support, offering hope to native Africans. Robert’s father, who is a British ambassador, praises Mugabe, a man who will, in time, evolve into a dictator.

Robert is soon thrust into a boarding school, where the traditional cruelty of a school’s pecking order mixes with rage over fifteen years of agonizing civil war. He is caught in the midst of hatred of the “kaffir” — black citizens — and hostility toward the British. As he struggles to find his niche in the school’s social strata, and witnesses seizure of land from whites, Robert is seduced into participating in bullying, cruelty, and bigotry. As the evil his schoolmates perpetrate continues to unfold, he reaches a line he is unwilling to cross. He has to summon great courage and determination to take a stand against his mates. But ultimately, when this battle has been fought, which side will cause the greater evil?

This is a thoughtful, complex novel. While it is horrifying, and I was often frustrated and angry at the young narrator, I clearly understood how and why he went down this path. I also found glimmers of courage and hope in the story, and I appreciated the fact that — as in life — there were seldom clear-cut heroes and villains.

There is also a wealth of fodder for discussion here — adults and mature teens can delve into the lingering effects of colonialism, bigotry, tyranny, the slippery slope from rage and aggression to evil and violence, and the corrupting nature of power. It can also be a springboard for discussion about courage and honesty.

I borrowed this book from International Book Tours.

Read Another Review: Wondrous Reads

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. July 9, 2010 5:45 am

    Ouch!! I’m so embarrassed you have your review up before mine. Blame the flu and grandchildren! Glad you enjoyed it – I thought it was excellent.

  2. July 9, 2010 8:18 am

    This sounds like an incredible novel. I always appreciate stories that acknowledge that human beings are complex and that “heroes” and “villains” are rarely clear-cut.

  3. July 9, 2010 1:01 pm

    Oh gosh. Wow. I love those lines you quote. This sounds like an amazing book!

  4. July 10, 2010 3:11 am

    Wow! I really don’t know if I would be able to pull the trigger on Hitler 🙂
    This sounds like an interesting and good read. I am putting this on my wishlist.

  5. July 10, 2010 6:18 am

    It sounds like a thrilling and intellectual and emotionally charged novel. Probably good for a book club too. I am familiar with Mugabe and his dictatorship. I think exploring the depths of one’s moral character is a tough subject and it seems this author has managed to tackle it.

  6. July 11, 2010 1:32 pm

    Wow, sounds incredible. This is definitely going on my wish list! Thanks for the review.

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