Chanda is a sixteen-year-old girl living in southern Africa, firmly caught in an AIDS pandemic. Millions of individuals living in this part of the world are infected with HIV/AIDS; this is not a work of historical fiction. In a life where money is scarce, good doctors even more so, and where ignorance and fear are roadblocks in the path to sexual safety, illness and disease are rampant. Chanda is living with her mother and her younger brother and sister, and her story begins immediately following the death of her youngest sister, baby Sara. Marking Chanda's mother as cursed and the reason for the death, Sara's father walks out on the family. Without money or work, life is difficult, especially for Chanda who is trying to make her way through school to get a scholarship. When her mother leaves to visit her family in her hometown, Chanda expects that she will return, and after a few weeks Chanda goes out to find her, determined to bring her home -- even if she is only bringing her back home to die.
Chanda's Secrets is a powerful story of poverty, and of the ignorance and fear about HIV/AIDS and the treatment of AIDS sufferers. It is about a young woman strong enough to stand up for the people she loves, whether it's her best friend who has to whore for money to bring her family back together, or a stepfather who she doesn't like but respects as a human being. It's about a difficult life and individuals fighting for survival every day. It's also about hope -- that through acknowledgement of the disease and education about safety, maybe one day AIDS will cease to exist.
*Great study/discussion/activity guide: http://www.allanstratton.com/secretsteachingguide.pdf
*The movie "Life, Above All" is based on this story.
Reviewed by kate the librarian.