Jan 31, 2012

Around the World Challenge: January & Global Domination Challenge: Africa

The objective is to read a new book from a different country for each of the 12 months in a year.

Time for my January review:

Spud by John van de Ruit

John Milton has a lot on his plate, as any 13-year-old boy does. He is heading off to a private, all-boys boarding school, thanks to a new scholarship and his beautiful singing voice. While he's excited to be leaving behind his crazy and embarrassing parents and eccentric grandmother he calls The Wombat, he's terrified to discover what awaits him at school - things like being nicknamed Spud because his balls haven't dropped yet, having a crazy bunkmate who only talks to inanimate objects and pulls out his own hair, and getting caned after getting caught with the rest of the Crazy Eight (his first-year dorm mates) sneaking out to go midnight swimming. He also meets both The Mermaid and Amanda (2 girls! While attending a boy's school!), trounces and gets trounced on and off the cricket field, decides to become both an actor and an activist, and explores the complexities of forced friendship and loyalty. With no punches pulled, no description too graphic, from the heights of love to the depths of loss, Spud captures it all in his diary, fully chronicling his first year at boarding school.

All of this takes place during the 1990s, making the backdrop issues of apartheid, the release of Nelson Mandela, race relations, class relations, and other related social issues. It's a bit crazy to think the 1990s are now "historical fiction," but Spud does a great job of capturing a White teen perspective at the time - learning about issues that didn't seem important until they suddenly are, struggling to catch up and make meaning out of political history, living in an accepting mixed-race environment at school but dealing with blatant racism at home, etc.


Spud: The Madness Continues by John van de Ruit

Surprise! I read two books for this challenge this month. I had forgotten that Spud, my original book choice, has 2 sequels! I was only able to get my hands on the second book, Spud: The Madness Continues, but I've requested my library purchase the third, so stay tuned to see if I ever get a chance to read it.

In Spud: The Madness Continues, the madness of the Crazy Seven (Seven due to a loss of one boy in Spud; then Eight, when a new boy comes; then Seven, when the new boy leaves; then Eight, when they induct Roger the Cat as an official member; then Six, when two of the boys get expelled; then Seven, when one of the boys gets back) really does continue. Spud is going to turn 15 during this year, is no longer in his first trembling year at the school, and has high hopes for both ball dropping and hair appearing in that same region. Despite his optimism (and the eventual voice-cracking, ball-dropping accomplishment), Spud soon finds that with both enemies and allies still at school, this year will not be any smoother. Still writing in his diary, the Spud of this year will chronicle his mother's plans to emigrate, The Wombat continuing to lose her mind, and his father's moonshine business; his first breakup, first ball hair, and first trip to England; the Crazy Eight's torture attempts at the Normal Seven (the new batch of first years); his actor career hitting a snag when he's cast as the Dove of Peace in a disastrous school play; and all the usual adventures of midnight swimming, cricket matches, brews, books, and broads, with just a hint more seriousness this year than last.

Let's see if I followed the guidelines:

1. Books must be set in the country. - Yes, all over South Africa, with a brief stint in England in book two.

2. Books should be by an author of that country, if you can find/get hold of one. - Yes, John van de Ruit is apparently quite a big deal over there.

3. Books must be fiction or memoir. Children’s books count too. - This is children's historical fiction, perfect for advanced tweens and early teen readers.

4. Books can count towards other challenges. - As I'm also participating in the Global Domination Challenge over at Insatiable Booksluts, I will count this for my Africa read.

Stay tuned for next month: FEBRUARY: Bangladesh - Rickshaw Girl by Mitali Perkins

For my complete book list, click on my original post or the challenges tab.


  1. This one of the best ideas I've seen for a reading challenge. I'll be curious to see "where you go" each month! And, I just finished a book set in the 90s and was wondering when it would considered historical fiction! What do you think the cut-off is?

    1. Katie - I have to confess that I now consider anything that happened before 2000 to be history. Particularly at this moment in time, when events seem to be sped up, happening at a rate faster than ever thanks to all the social networking that makes communication quicker than instant.

      You should totally participate in the challenge, if you can! I'm thrilled at how it's expanding my reading world. I'm not reading things outside my comfort zone, per se, but more finding new literature that can gently expand my understanding of the world. I'm loving it!

    2. This book sounds good--it wouldn't have occurred to me to read a YA book to get a white perspective on apartheid, etc, but why not?

  2. I tried to leave a comment the other day but life intruded! What was I going to say... I love the sound of this book, the combination of humour and real social issues from a boy's perspective. Got it on my wishlist now!


Penny for your thoughts?