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The Boy Next Door
Irene Sabatini

Little, Brown and Company / Hachette Book Group
September 8, 2009 / ISBN 031604993X
General/ Literary

Reviewed by Beth E. McKenzie

This is undoubtedly one of the most heart-wrenchingly sad books that I have ever read. The only other books that have made me feel more wretched are Cry, the Beloved Country, by Alan Paton and North Star (reviewed on by Pier Giorgio Pacifici. They all have the same theme, "we are imprisoned by birth, by action and by lack of action. Your choices either send you to another prison or make the original walls higher. Your only hope is to find one you can tolerate."

Lindiwe Bishop has a black mother and a white father making her a colored girl in the Zimbabwean way of labeling people. Fair skinned, her mother encourages her to let people draw the conclusion that she is white, to the point of playing the family maid and deferring to her daughter in public. (It is humorous to me that the girl on the book jacket has cocoa-colored skin) The pivotal event in Lindiwe's youth is when the house next door burns down. The widow, who has been partying hard since her husband's death, dies in the fire and a few days later her stepson, Ian, is arrested for murder and arson. The entire Mackenzie family become an enigma for Lindiwe so it is not surprising that, when the charges are dropped after more than a year of confinement, the 15-year old girl is drawn to the so-called bad boy next door. It is also no surprise that when Ian decides to abandon home for Johannesburg that she decides to use his defection as an escape from her parent's bitter life into the sweet seduction of the unknown. But it doesn't work the way she hopes and new confinements appear. Even at the very end, when the entire family escapes and is finally together and safe, they have been driven from their home and can never go back, so which side of the wall did they end up on? And did they go all that way for Ian just to leave them again?

Even though they are completely different stories, it is hard not to draw parallels between the 1948 classic novel Cry, the Beloved Country and The Boy Next Door as there are many similarities. Both discuss life in Southern African nations that are in a state of unrest due to corrupt governments and racially-inspired violence. We see segregation, children who hurt and disappoint their parents, wasted resources, unwed mothers, futility, desperation, prison, rescue, tears, and hope for the future. Has nothing of substance improved in the near-60 years between these two books? Can it ever?

Reviewers Note: racialistic, violent / Winner of the 2010 Orange Award for New Writers

Reviewed 2011
© 2011