Book Blog -- OUT OF SHADOWS by Jason Wallace

Katherine Longshore 4 Tuesday, September 06, 2011

You know you're getting old when a book set in a decade you remember is classified as historical. But OUT OF SHADOWS by Jason Wallace feels so timely and so immediate, that you forget it’s historical.

It's the story of Robert Jacklin, a young English boy whose father gets a job in the embassy of the newly-formed Zimbabwe. The country has just been through a civil war, blacks against whites, tribe against tribe. Robert Mugabe has taken power, and holds it tightly, insisting on equality while upholding polarity.

The book is set primarily in an elite boys’ boarding school, one that used to be all white, but has suddenly become integrated. Jacklin finds himself ostracized because he is English and allies himself with the only black boy in his year. But he quickly learns the language and culture of the other boys around him, putting on the persona like a cloak that hides his true self. But cannot hide him from the repercussions his choices will unleash.

I wanted to read this book for three reasons. The first was that it was set in Zimbabwe, a country in which I spent six months in the 90s. The second is that I absolutely love to read books set in boarding schools. (Sometimes I remind myself of Miles Halter in John Green’s LOOKING FOR ALASKA, because the idea of boarding school is so enticing, and yet so frightening.) And the third is that it was blurbed by Markus Zusak. (Yes, sometimes I do buy for blurbs.)

This book lived up to and fulfilled all of my reasons. Wallace’s descriptions of Zimbabwe are spare and evocative, and I could picture all of it from the heat on the dusty vlei to the odor of the bottle shop to the way the words sounded in the mouths of the characters.

And his boarding school didn't disappoint. Like a cross between the violence of THE LORDS OF DISCIPLINE and the awkward integration of LOOKING FOR ALASKA with echoes of A SEPARATE PEACE.

But best of all, the book gives a very human slant to such a distant history. The distance is not necessarily in time, but in place. Not many readers know anything at all about what has happened in Zimbabwe, or what is happening now. And this book provides an excellent illustration.


I'm one of those that doesn't know much about what happened in Zimbabwe. As a history buff I've got to get this one!

Thanks, Heather! Please tell me what you think!

Once I get through all those books I took from you today, I might give this one a shot. Speaking of boarding school books, have you read Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld? That was another one that made me cry....

I don't remember crying reading Prep, but I did read it. And Frankie Landau-Banks. And The Secret History. And Old School. And...

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