WHEN HOOPOES GO TO HEAVEN by Gaile Parkin
In the midst of the appalling tragedy that is HIV/AIDs in the African continent, ten year old Benedict is getting on with his life as ten year old boys the world over do. Both his parents are 'late', and with his two siblings and two cousins, who also have 'late' parents, he has been taken under the wing of his grandparents. The family has just moved from Tanzania to Swaziland for his Baba's work. Mama, or Angel as she is also known, is desperately trying to get her cake baking business going, which is not easy while attempting to settle into a new place.
Benedict is the type of child who will find something good or positive in any situation, and for him, his new home is a paradise. A beautiful garden rich with lizards, birds and butterflies, and with the recent tragedies in his young life, it doesn't take much for him to escape into his own special world. As an outsider at school, a kwerekwere, he finds solace in the garden, in reading King Solomon's Mines to improve his language knowledge and generally getting to know his new environment. Which includes the search for the buried treasure in aforementioned book Benedict is convinced is buried nearby. Being an inquisitive boy, determined to be good for his grandparents, and where death from HIV/AIDS is an everyday occurrence, he very quickly endears himself to the local funeral directors. Lots of doors open to Benedict and his family as a result of his charm, and with his open mind and his open heart, yet little or no understanding of the adult world around him, he is a happy little lad.
Despite the vast majority of the book being narrated through Benedict's eyes, the reader gets a very keen sense of the world the adults are living and surviving in - Benedict's grandparents with the responsibility of five grandchildren, the neighbours with their family, Mavis who works for Baba and Mama and has her own grief to deal with, the young man who looks after the animals, as well as a girl at his school.. Not a great deal happens in this book, and even though I kept waiting for some plot development, it didn't matter that it didn't. This is a story about people looking for the good and the happy in the lives they are leading and finding it. It is colourful, lively, warm and charming, and beautifully depicted in the cover.