Little Family

Ishmael Beah's third work (A Long Way Gone; Radiance of Tomorrow) is so rife with longing, sorrow and wisdom that it's difficult to swallow in one sitting. Little Family follows five orphans in an unnamed African country (though it's similar to Beah's home country of Sierra Leone), where they survive by sharing. Assembling a home from the skeleton of an abandoned airplane, they spend their days in pursuit of food, money and clothing, which they frequently swipe from the wealthy visitors that crowd the nearby beach. Elimane, the oldest, is a gentle bookworm whose cleverness makes him a natural-born leader. Then there's Ndevui and Kpindi, who act like twins, poking fun at each other while kicking a makeshift soccer ball late into the night. Finally, there's little Namsa, the youngest and sweetest of the bunch, and Khoudiemata, brilliant but not yet sure of her place in the world.

All are reeling from the lives they have lost before they met each other, and they cope by focusing on the task of survival. But when Elimane enters the service of the wealthy William Handkerchief, a man of unknown profession but obvious power, the little group is pulled in different directions. Khoudi, in particular, likes to keep her secrets, and as she grows into a young woman, the lure of the comfortable and wealthy--whom she calls "the beautiful people"--is finally too much to resist.

This is a gorgeous novel, buoyed with the slow, effective rhythm of a legend, but touched with enough relevancy and humor to feel poignant. Beah is a master of young narrators--who are not, in fact, as young as they seem. --Lauren Puckett, freelance writer

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