by Henning Mankell. Translated from Swedish by Anne Connie Stuksrud. Annick Press, 2003. I read this in two nap times and cried all the way through. It's a heartbreaking story based on the life of a real girl living in Mozambique. While running to the fields to work with her mother and sister she stepped off the path once and landed on a land mine. Her sister was killed and she almost died. She lost both of her legs.
Her family had already suffered the tragedy of having their village burned to the ground by militias who also murdered her father and most of her relatives, friends and neighbors. They were refugees for months, walking across country until they found another community of refugees who welcomed them. They had built a new hut (their third) and settled into work raising food for themselves when Sofia and Maria met the land mine.
Sofia is lucky to survive. She must live in the big city in the hospital and then in a nursing home for a long time in recovery. The doctors and nurses she meets are kind and nurturing, in spite of having almost no supplies or equipment. In the nursing home, for example, she sleeps on a rusty spring frame for a bed, with no mattress. She finally gets her new prosthetic legs and learns to walk again. She is determined to return home to rejoin her family and due to her strength of character and indomitable spirit she succeeds.
It's a very inspiring story, but so tragic. Information in the front and back of the book tells us that:
"The Global landmine crisis is one of the most pervasive humanitarian problems facing the world today. It is estimated that there are between 60 and 70 million landmines in the ground in at least 70 countries. Approximately every 30 seconds, another innocent person is maimed or killed by a landmine. UNICEF estimates that 30% - 40% of all mine victims are children under the age of 15. Survivors are forced to endure a lifetime of physical, psychological, and economic hardship."
You can learn more at the Adopt-a-Minefield website. This book would be an excellent book club selection for young adults interested in making an impact on the world. It could be an excellent resource for service opportunities and global awareness curriculum. It's very well written with excellent pacing and balanced descriptions. I can almost imagine myself living in Sophia's world and it is a shock to put the book down and walk into my neighborhood grocery store overflowing with luxury and wealth.
There is an interesting review of Secrets and the sequel Playing with Fire at St. John's University website written by Professor Barbara Harlow. Here's another review hosted by the University of Manitoba.