Hope Is Our Only Wing
by Tavengerwei, Rutendo

After her journalist-father's mysterious death in 2008, fifteen-year-old Shamiso must leave England for boarding school in Zimbabwe, where she and Tanyaradzwa, who is fighting cancer, form an unexpected friendship.

Rutendo Nomsa Tavengerwei grew up in Zimbabwe before moving to South Africa to study law. One of her greatest influences in writing remains her father, who tutored her from the age of nine, teaching her how to write and how to play around with language when telling a story. Rutendo currently works and lives in Geneva, Switzerland. Hope Is Our Only Wing is her debut novel.

Shamiso begins her days at a boarding school in Zimbabwe with a heavy heart. Her father has just died, plunging Shamiso and her mother into not only grief but terrible poverty. The school itself is barely staffed, since most teachers are on strike. Only one girl, Tanyaradzwa, reaches out in friendship. But Tanyaradzwa has her own struggles with cancer, exacerbated by a health care program that is increasingly restrictive about paying for medical services. The book moves back and forth between the stories of the two girls as they themselves inch toward friendship. There is a lot of potential in the realistic portrayal of life so distant from that of most American readers. Shamiso's father was a journalist, and there is some mystery surrounding the circumstances of his death. But the intrigue is diluted by a narrative style that just lightly sketches plot details, making for a quick but sometimes confusing read. Nevertheless, readers may find themselves emotionally drawn to Shamiso and Tanyaradzwa, and the author's perspective lends striking insight into another culture. Grades 9-12. Copyright 2019 Booklist Reviews.

Following the tragic and mysterious death of her journalist father while on an investigative trip to the family's homeland of Zimbabwe, 15-year-old Shamiso and her mother leave England. Returning to the country she left at age 5 is disorienting for Shamiso-she doesn't even remember her paternal grandmother. She unsuccessfully tries to keep her grief and anger under wraps, bound up in resentment over being in this place that is now home. At her new boarding school, Shamiso initially seeks to keep to herself, but Tanyaradzwa, another student, who has her own reasons for deep sadness, extends an offer of friendship that Shamiso initially rebuffs, although later the girls become close companions. Inspired by actual events from 2008 Zimbabwe, debut author Tavengerwei masterfully knits together a literary quilt with prose that evokes heartbreaking and hopeful truths. Mainly portraying events from a teenager's perspective, readers also learn about the political and economic downfall of a once prosperous country. Filled with tales of struggle, sacrifice, corruption, and resilience, the novel showcases a cast of characters whose formidable spirits in the face o f life-threatening crises take readers on a roller-coaster ride of emotions via a gripping page-turner. A narrative of courage and optimism in the face of loss, this novel is brilliant storytelling. (glossary) (Fiction. 14-adult) Copyright Kirkus 2019 Kirkus/BPI Communications. All rights reserved.

Chapter 1
Shamiso's heart broke into a shudder of beats. She could hear the jazzy trails of the mbira spiraling in the air. Her father would have loved that sound. She glanced at her mother, who stood next to her, fanning her sweaty neck. She seemed preoccupied. The music played on, painful and familiar.
     When Shamiso was eight, her father had insisted that she learn how to play. The metal pellets had bruised the tips of her fingers as she plunked on them. A series of confused notes bumping into a glorious discord. The frustration had been too much for an eight-year-old, made worse by the fact that none of the other kids at school understood quite what the instrument was.
     Shamiso listened as the voice of the mbira rose proudly. Whoever was playing knew what they were doing. She could hear the underlying tone of a hum that flowed well with the song. And in that magnificent noise floated all the memories and feelings she was trying to ignore.
     Her mother hovered by her side, trying to figure out where they should go. Shamiso felt numb, staring down at her shiny new shoes and listening to the music that disturbed the air.
     "Shamiso." Her mother hesitated. "Are you all right?"
     "I told you before," Shamiso muttered, biting her breath, "I don't want to be at boarding school. Especially here!"
     She watched her mother wipe her damp neck as though she had not heard her. Her blouse clung to her skin, moist from the sweat.
     "There's no time to cry," her mother said softly. "Wipe your tears, mwanangu. You'll be fine." She nodded at the administration block in front of them.
     Shamiso saw the exhaustion on her mother's face as they picked up the luggage and headed for the building. They sat in the waiting room and looked around. The young man behind the reception desk seemed caught up in a tsunami of phone calls. The walls were lined with pictures of alumni at different events across the years. Shamiso could hear snatches of conversation from two men standing by the door.
     "Yes, but by staying away . . . we . . . are only punishing the children," one of the men said rather slowly. Shamiso kept her head down, concentrating on the tracks of the mbira.
     "You are beginning to sound like that journalist . . ." the other man commented.
     Shamiso raised her head. She guessed the men were teachers, but she could barely hear what they were saying. She leaned in.
     "Of course . . . we . . . we have to be smart about this," the first man continued, his voice rising in volume.
     A bubble of anger formed in Shamiso's throat. She tried to keep calm. Her ears picked up the music, which was slowly forming into a song. She wondered if she would ever be able to play like that.
     The notes poked at her brain. Her father had called it the sound of home, the stolen guitar of nature. She closed her eyes. Memories sat vividly in her mind. His fingers dancing around on the little pellet strings, his lips pursed, the music swirling. She held her breath, scared that if she breathed out too soon she would lose him.
     A sudden voice jolted her back to the present. "Aww, first day at school, is it?"
     Shamiso opened her eyes and wiped them with the back of her hand. A girl stood in front of her, holding a pile of books. Her curly hair was tied back tightly into a bun. She seemed to be headed for the staffroom.
     "Newcomer or first form?" the girl asked.
     "I'm new," Shamiso mumbled.
     "Would you look at that! We have ourselves a Brit," the girl declared.
     Shamiso gritted her teeth. The door to the staffroom suddenly opened. The cartoon on the door warned her that it was out of bounds. A teacher stood in the entrance, blocking the view as though the staffroom was some sacred destination that students were not meant to see. All Shamiso could hear was laughter as the teacher beckoned the girl inside.
     "Well, don't worry, Your Majesty, it will definitely get worse. The queen doesn't come here for tea, I'm afraid," the girl said in her best imitation of what she thought was an English accent before following the teacher inside.
     Shamiso fought the urge to call after her. She had hardly been in this country long and she was already certain she did not like it at all.
Chapter 2
Shamiso stood beside the plump principal. Her mother had left-not that Shamiso had wanted her to stay. The principal signaled for the class to sit down.
     Shamiso fidgeted. Her armpits stung and fear jeered right in her face. The last time she had been in a new place, her father was there. Things had always fallen into place when her father was in charge. She pulled the cuffs of her cardigan into her palms and held them tight.
     "Good morning, class," the principal's hadeda voice rang out.
     She looked over the students, poised like a goddess standing with her hands sharply by her sides, her spectacles beneath her cold eyes. Her navy-blue dress perfectly matched the seriousness of her face. Her thin, curly, gray hair lay tired on her head. She seemed as though she was probably no more than a year or two from being bald.
     "Now, I have Miss Muloy with me. She is new and will be joining us this term. I would like to stress that here at Oakwood we pride ourselves on our hospitality."
     She paused for effect. Her spectacles slid down to the tip of her nose as she placed a hand on Shamiso's shoulder.
     "There's an empty seat at the back; you can make your way there."
     Shamiso did not want to be here. She turned slightly toward the principal and could see it in her eyes that she knew this too. Still, Shamiso did what she had been asked. Her fists swung close to her hips and her breath was tempered. She glanced at the rest of the students, each with a book opened on their desks as though someone had taken the time to carefully align them. Their shirts were a crisp white, with the girls in green cardigans and the boys in maroon.
     The room itself was old, with sagging paint and aging Post-its, windows with rusty frames and the wood-tiled floor.
     She stared at the tiles. There was something about their tired and unkempt state that she could relate to.
     "You can sit down!" the principal told her, but it was as if Shamiso wasn't in her body. She continued to stand, almost dazed, her feet forming some sort of bond with the floor.
     "To sit, or not to sit, that is the question." One of the students chuckled. The class broke into wild sniggers as Shamiso snapped back to reality.
     "Quiet!" the principal said, turning to one of the girls at the front. "Paida, shouldn't you be keeping the class in check until your teacher arrives?" Shamiso's eyes popped. The girl! The girl from reception! She shifted toward the principal.
     "Because of the strike, ma'am, Miss Ndlovu hasn't been coming to teach us. We were reading from our Shakespeare set book. I believe that's what Tinotenda is referring to," the girl said with a smirk on her face.
     The principal halted by the door. "Things are hard for the staff, but I will talk to Miss Ndlovu." She paused. Three distinct lines formed on her forehead. "Paida, can I trust you to make sure that Miss Muloy settles in?"
     "Yes, ma'am!" the girl answered confidently.
     As soon as the principal was a safe distance away, the class broke into chatter. There was only one thing Shamiso liked about this arrangement: she could sit in the back corner where she could hide and blend into the wall. She opened her desk, fighting the lump in her throat. She had to pull herself together. Her mother had insisted on this school. She was convinced that it was only at a mission school that a good education was guaranteed, and she had groped for every cent she could find to pay the fees.
     Oakwood High was one of the few mission schools left in the country, built by missionaries during the unstable liberation war of colonial times. It was located close to Chinhoyi, just a few kilometers west of the capital Harare. It had stood there for decades, thriving due to its exceptional pass rate and good morals.
     Traveling to Oakwood had been close to a nightmare. Since petrol was scarce, only a few buses a day went to Chinhoyi. The bus had been packed beyond capacity in spite of the heat. Shamiso leaned close to the classroom window, still sticky and hungry for fresh air. She wiped the film of sweat from her forehead and gazed at the enormous oak tree outside. It reminded her of home.
     "You know, it's always a good idea to come a day early. It takes away most of the stress and frustration," the student in front of her said, turning around. She had a delicate voice, soft like ripples of water, and a smile that lit up like gasoline. She extended her hand.
     Shamiso lowered the lid of her desk, her eyes gliding from the girl's face to her outstretched arm. The girl's eyes had bags under them, carrying a world of fatigue. Shamiso stared a second longer and looked away. She could make out a mbira beneath the girl's chair. She blinked rapidly, reached for her backpack and felt for her textbook.
     "Around here, you're going to need friends," the girl said with a chuckle. "When you realize that, my name is Tanyaradzwa."

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