The Door of No Return by Sarah Mussi 2008
Margaret K. McEldery Books/Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing
IQ "I'd remembered one of Pop's sayings: 'Where there's a will there's a way, and when there's no way there's always excuses.' I'd add 'and lazy old buggers.' We'd laugh." Zac pg. 64 (that quote made me smile)
Zac Baxter's grandfather drills into his head that he is the descendant of Ghanaian kings, whose treasure was stolen when Zac's ancestors were sold into slavery by the British. Zac doesn't believe his grandfather, after all he's elderly and living in the past but then his grandfather is murdered and their apartment is ransacked. Suddenly it's not just a tall tale anymore, the treasure becomes very real and very important. Zac is determined to get to Ghana to find not just the treasure but his roots. His grandfather's dying words had to do with Zac having the treasure map but Zac has no clue what that means, he hasn't seen one. He discovers clue after clue but the people who murdered his grandfather always seem to be a step ahead and quite influential with the government. Who can Zac trust?
I didn't realize this book was going to end up being about reparations for slavery. I think the reparations debate is completely silly (especially given the state of the economy these days, where is the government going to find the money to pay all the Black descendants of slaves in their country? AND how do you know if some of your ancestors were slaves, not everyone can afford to have their family history traced....) so that put a slight damper on my enjoyment of the book because I kept rolling my eyes. Aside from that I didn't like how this book was ALL ABOUT Zac. It was all in his head for the most part and the few dialogues in the book turned into monologues between characters. At times the dialogue/slang sounded stiff, thrown in just to sound 'cool' or something because otherwise it didn't make much sense (granted there was a lot of British slang I presume). The secondary characters provided background noise and help when needed (or violence) but little else, including the few people Zac decided to trust. And *spoiler: highlight to read* why did Zac take his friends on a shopping spree? They were BARELY mentioned! *End spoiler* Speaking of whom to trust, Zac goes on and on about how growing up in the streets he knows not to trust many people, especially after what happens to his grandfather and his home but then he trusts someone that it seemed (to me anyway) quite clear he shouldn't. He was extra careful about everyone except the one person he needed to be which made it seem too obvious as to who was going to betray Zac. I was even more disappointed in the long history of Ghana (provided in a monologue by a chauffeur) it should have been presented in a more interesting, varied way. Furthermore, Ghana wasn't described in great detail. In the end Zac talks about how Ghana is the best country in the world, I wanted to love it too but I didn't get a real sense of Ghana from this book. I hated how Zac kept saying "I regretted this" or "I shouldn't have done" that, to me that takes away an element of surprise.
Some elements of the story were well done. The history of Portuguese explorers, the British & Ghanaians was fascinating to read about, even if it was described in a long conversation. A small part of the story that I loved was the location of the treasure map. It was unrealistic definitely but a cool concept. While I did not get a strong feel for Ghana, I did get a through description of Gloucester, England, that city was one I could imagine as well as the hamlet of Syde (which might be fictional?). Since the story was all about Zac and his thoughts, the emotional intensity of the story was there. I was terrified for Zac, it would be very scary not being able to trust anyone because your life depends on it. He goes through a lot for a sixteen year old (seeing his grandfather murdered before his eyes, community home, court apperances) and I could literally taste the fear sometimes especially when he was in Ghana. I don't want to give too much away but Zac goes to Ghana on the ruse of doing community service and the place he ends up at would scare me to death. I was amazed that he kept it together. There was another quote that really resonated with me, "He [Pops] had a way of telling things; his voice pulled you into that mysterious place where the past burnt brighter than any pale present, and you hungered to be there, where 'brave deeds and terrible sacrifices' made life worth living" (pg. 60).I can totally relate to that, wanting to be swept up in a cause that's bigger than yourself, that you believe in so passionately (ending slavery, women's suffrage, civil rights). I think my (American) generation is looking for our 'big' cause but maybe that's a lot of 'little' causes (although I think it might be immigration).
The Door of No Return is not a peachy keen read which I appreciated, there are some really dark moments. I did not appreciate Zac's sloppy narration because while I liked how random it could be (after all I think most teenagers' thoughts are pretty random), the slang and his dramatics annoyed me. I really didn't like how Zac didn't interact much with other characters, basically the author used them for what they could give Zac (or hurt him for) and then disregarded them, bringing them up again when convenient. Certain parts of the story were well done such as the descriptions of Gloucester (not that I've been there), Black life in Gloucester, and the treasure map along with the story behind the treasure. At the same time, the pacing is incredibly uneven (fast moving-sloooowwwwwww-fastfast) and I wasn't completely satisfied with how convenient the mystery was solved. Ultimately it worked out that I ended up waiting two years to read this book, I didn't miss out on much.
Disclosure: Got it from the library