The Premise: sixteen year old Tina is haunted by the murder of her mother, and she’s sure she knows who did it. Plotting revenge from the criminal underbelly of Sangui City (a fictional location in Kenya), Tina finally finds herself in the office of the rich man who she blames for her mother’s death, but is confronted by his son; together, they are determined to find the truth.
Thoughts: where to start with this book? City of Saints and Thieves has an exciting and intriguing plot, with a violent undercurrent and pervading sense of menace. It took me a while to feel convinced by this atmosphere, but, once I bought into it, I was almost swept up in Tina’s battle for the truth, as well as her struggle to take care of the younger sister whose safety is threatened by Tina’s illegal activities. There’s a lot going on, all tied together by Tina’s strong and determined personality.
The book is unlike anything else I’ve read in YA, with its political context of the civil war in the Democratic Republic of Congo, which Tina and her mother left as refugees years ago; Anderson conveys a genuine sense of danger and fear concerning the tumultuous conditions of people there, using her experience working with the UN on refugee relief in the region. I was a little skeptical about the book initially, as my preference would generally be to seek out a novel written by someone from the country at the centre of the story. The DRC is certainly portrayed here as a perilous and frightening country, but a cursory look at news headlines backs this up; only a few months ago, for example, militia decapitated over 40 policemen. Although this is obviously really troubling subject matter, it’s true, and this kind of hard-hitting political content doesn’t appear very often in YA. City of Saints and Thieves isn’t an overly didactic or preachy novel in any way, but it is hugely educational.
In Conclusion: an intriguing and sometimes alarming combination of wild plotting and real-life horrors, City of Saints and Thieves is a fresh and ambitious addition to the YA genre. I was really impressed with Anderson’s dedication to her stories – both the fictional one and its political parallel – and the result is something gripping.