Wednesday, August 26, 2009

"The Ear, the Eye, and the Arm" by Nancy Farmer

Summary: In a futuristic Zimbabwe, the General’s children, Tendai, Rita, and Kuda, feel stifled by their father’s overprotective and demanding parenting. In search of adventure, the children leave their family home one day and find themselves kidnapped and thrown into darker and poorer parts of the country. The General enlists the help of three strange detectives, the Ear, the Eye, and the Arm, to help rescue his children.

Musings: I appreciated the unique locale of this novel, which is rare to find in YA novels (at least those I’ve read). Although set in a futuristic society (for example, machines magically create food you want, a la Star Trek), the story takes place in Zimbabwe and incorporates many Zimbabwean traditions and customs in the book. Farmer is a white American, but she lived in Zimbabwe for a number of years, so there’s a sense that the book has at least some truth to that society.

I found the book, though, a bit disjointed. I couldn’t quite piece together the society Farmer had created nor did I feel especially connected to the characters. At first, I thought it was because the book was designed for a much younger audience (perhaps late elementary/early middle school years), but I’m not sure that’s the case as there was some more serious subject matter later in the novel.

Perhaps it was because the odyssey of the children felt slapped together rather than following a real journey pattern. The children travel from strange place to strange place, just a step ahead of those searching for them, but nothing seemed to actually happen.

I was most confused by the trio of detectives. In my mind, they were some of the worst detectives ever created. Although possessing strange powers, they were completely inept. I would have written them off as buffoons, but the novel had the other characters react to them in a way that seemed to portray them as admirable and competent. I was unsure what impression Farmer wanted us to have of the men.

The book has some good messages about there being positive qualities in each person, although that message is not fully explored. All ends are happily wrapped up by the end of the novel, despite some serious issues being mentioned, but not explored (for example, cultural traditions vs. modern moralities).

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