“Golden Boy” by Tara Sullivan is a fictional story, based on historical facts and events, about albinos in Tanzania being hunted and killed for their body parts because those are considered to be lucky talismans.
Sullivan uses first person narration to tell the story of Habo, whose full name, Dhahabo, means “gold.” In his rural village, where few are educated and none know about albinos, he is considered a freak, unlucky.
In school he is made to sit at the back of the classroom, where with his poor eyesight, he cannot learn the material. It all contributes to the fact that albinos get a substandard education and therefore cannot read well, and then are thought to be unintelligent.
Habo’s father leaves the family after Habo is born because he cannot deal with having a son whose skin is white. When the family cannot afford to continue to live in their village, they move to Mwanza, where his aunt lives. When they arrive, they discover that in that area, albinos are considered lucky — at least their body parts are.
A true story related in the book is of a man named Charlie Ngeleja, an albino man who was killed by three men while at dinner with his wife in their small home. They took his legs, hands and hair and left the rest of the body. The police did nothing even though they knew who had killed him.
Albino body parts are as valuable as — or more valuable than — illegal ivory. When a hunter tries to kill Habo, he decides he must flee to Dar es Salaam, a big city where two members of Parliment are albinos.
How Habo gets to the city and how he survives there is the bulk of the story. It is a story filled with despair and horror, but also with uplifting examples of generosity and kindness. The core message is that one’s value comes from within. His mentor tells him, “As long as you know your worth, other people will catch on eventually.”
The story is also about courage, and it’s about doing the right thing — no matter how difficult that might be. “Golden Boy” is also very much about family and the fact that love binds family together even though it might not be apparent on the surface. Habo flees without telling his family where he is going because he wants to protect them. He also doesn’t think they will really miss him. He learns otherwise at the end of this story, which is touching but also horrifying because it is based on actual incidents.
Although the story begins slowly, and it takes a while to really care about Habo, as his adventure builds and he leaves his family, the reader will be drawn into his plight. His successes will make readers smile, and when he is faced with death, readers will hold their breath.
An example of some of the fine writing is a description of Habo’s feelings when they leave their home. “This leaving is not like leaving for the river or school. This leaving is the kind of leaving you do at a gravesite. It’s a leaving that is also a giving up. Our home is no longer our home.”
While the book shows the worst of humanity, it also illuminates the best of us, and the ending is a celebration of life and a bow to education and its role in eradicating ignorance and superstition.
Please note: This review is based on the final hardcover book provided by the publisher, G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers, for review purposes.
Follow the National Book Examiner on Facebook and Twitter.
If you would like to continue receiving book reviews, including information about author appearances, author interviews and giveaways, please click the “Subscribe” icon. It’s free and anonymous. Thank you for reading, and thank you for sharing this article with others.