The Other Side of Truth by Beverly Naidoo

This book was quite a different style of read for us.  It wasn’t high action in the sense we’re used to and all the scenarios were totally realistic.  It’s a story about freedom of speech and the press and the forces that are for and against it.  The tale begins with the Solaja family in Nigeria in the mid 1990’s.  The father of the family, Folarin, is a journalist and is using his pen to expose the corruption in the military regime ruling his country.  It’s risky but Folarin believes that the truth must be heard and that bullies must be stood up to.  The sad result of his bravery is an asassination attempt on his life that ends up killing his wife.  His two children, Sade who is 12 and Femi who is 10, hear the gun shots and run outside to see their mother die.

The central character of the book is Sade who is then forced to be secreted out of Nigeria with her brother for their own safety.  They must lie and pretend to be someone else’s children to get to safety in England where Folarin has a brother.  Plans run amok when the children’s escort deserts them in England and the children discover that their uncle is missing.  They have no idea what to do in this foreign land or who to trust.  They fear disclosing the truth to the police because in their own country the police are the most corrupt.  What if the police in England work with the police in Nigeria?  Sade and Femi are children and we see how the sins of adults affects them.

The children end up in the care of kind foster parents through a social assistance agency.  They are enrolled in school to make their lives as normal as possible.  There, Sade discovers that oppression happens even in England.  Two power hungry girls bully her to quickly put the new girl in her place – under them and in fear.  They threaten to hurt Femi unless she does what they want her to.  What they want her to do is to steal from a fellow classmate’s parent’s store.  This classmate was also an African refugee and has been kind to Sade.  Sade knows from experience that doing the right thing can be costly and therefore cows in fear and does what the bullies want.  It tears her up inside.

Beverly Naidoo does a good job letting us know how Sade is thinking and why she does what she does.  She is an experienced author having herself been in prison for speaking out about apartheid in her native country of South Africa and having to eventually go into exile.  She brings to life quite well the struggle to know what to do when doing what one thought was right led to such terrible outcomes.  In the end, Sade finds out that her father made it out of Nigeria to England but is in jail for using a false passport.  She knows why he lied and wants the world to know too.  She and Femi bravely wait out in the cold for hours to get a chance to talk to “Mr. Seven O’Clock News” and tell him their story.  They risk worrying their kind caregivers to death and the possibility that this journalist will just write them off.  In the end, their story is brought to light and things begin to change for the Solaja family.

This is a great book for starting conversations with older children about injustice, what bravery sometimes looks like and the price some people have to pay for the freedoms we regularly enjoy.  I hope that it made D and P think.  It did that for me.

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