City Boy

Book review by
Matt Berman, Common Sense Media
City Boy Book Poster Image
AIDS orphan adjusts to the country life in Malawi.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.


A short fistfight between boys.


A mention that AIDS is caused by people having sex, a boy sees some women bathing bare-breasted.


Video game and car brands mentioned.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that the main character, like many others where he lives, has been orphaned by AIDS, and there is a brief mention that it is caused by sex. Otherwise the content here is mild: a brief boyhood fight, a few brands mentioned.

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What's the story?

Sam has grown up in the city of Blantyre, Malawi. Now that both of his parents are dead from the Disease (AIDS), he must go to live with his Aunt Mercy in the rural village of Mandingwe, where there is no electricity in the thatched-roof, brick huts there. Sam, used to using a computer and the ways of the city, finds it hard to adjust, and he is not warmly welcomed by his cousins, some of them also orphans who live with Mercy, and who are contemptuous of a \"city boy.\" Feeling excluded, unwanted, and unable to adjust, Sam decides he must leave.

Is it any good?

The author evokes a powerful empathy for his protagonist, which makes the eventual resolution, though a bit contrived, all the sweeter.

The story of the city mouse and the country mouse dates all the way back to Aesop, and is apparently one of those archetypes that crosses cultures and continents. This particular variation takes place in modern Malawi, a tiny country in southeastern Africa of which few American child readers will have heard, and where the difference between city and country is extreme. Author Jan Michael's first book to be published in America thus may serve as an introduction for many readers to a distant and exotic place that is both like and unlike their own homes and experiences.

Though some of the cultural specifics will be unfamiliar -- Sam is, for instance, expected to share everything he owns with his cousins, which will surely horrify American children who will consider it grossly unfair -- the feelings he experiences are universal. His misery and despair at his seeming rejection, after losing not only his parents, but also his home, school, friends, and everything he knows and understands in the world, will touch even cynical hearts. 

From the Book:
"I mean" -- Sam was puzzled -- "where should I put my clothes?"

Now it was her turn not to understand. "Put them?"

"Well, where do you put yours?"

Enock pointed at the wall. Nails were driven into it, and from them dripped a small assortment of trousers and shirts and cloths. "Ezza and I share a nail."

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the title and premise. It seems that in every culture people from the city and those from the country consider themselves to be very different. Are they? If so, why are they? If not, why do so many seem to think so? Is there a basic difference between growing up in the city and country that would make people very different?

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