Diamond Boy

Book review by
Darienne Stewart, Common Sense Media
Diamond Boy Book Poster Image
Heartbreaking, powerful tale amid diamond mines of Zimbabwe.

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A lot or a little?

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

Educational Value

Eye-opening depiction of the desperation, brutality, and heartbreak tied to Zimbabwe's Marange diamond field. Teen's journey shows the societal upheaval caused by the mining operations, the corruption of the Mugabe government, the disparity between Zimbabwe and neighboring South Africa, and the ongoing violence and instability in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. References to Nelson Mandela and author Credo Mutwa may inspire further reading. Back matter includes a glossary, historical information on Marange and land mines, and an author's note explaining how a young reader's letter inspired the novel.

Positive Messages

The promise of wealth can be tremendously corrosive and can bring far more pain than joy. Family, friendship, and determination can help people endure devastating setbacks. Through his journey, Patson learns to grieve loss, to heal, and to carry his past with him as he moves forward.

 

Positive Role Models & Representations

Amid the corruption and greed at the mine, Patson forges loyal friendships. He takes great risks, but through it all he puts family first. Boubacar, still trying to make amends for terrible deeds in his past, goes to extraordinary lengths to help Patson's family. Patson's father is a calm, thoughtful influence on his family.

Violence

Children and families are in constant peril, threatened by crime bosses, bandits, and the military. Brutality erupts with little warning or reason: A father savagely injures his son, a helper abandons his charges, a child is maimed by a land mine, and workers are threatened, tortured, and shot. A military commander relentlessly pursues a boy and tries to kidnap him. Refugees risk being shot or killed by wild animals during their flight. An ill child dies. A child loses a parent. There are hints that a kidnapped girl is raped.

Sex

Aside from a teen's account of a simple kiss, sexual references -- many of them oblique -- are tinged with violence and exploitation. A guard leers at a woman's breasts and another gropes a woman; so-called washer women are clearly prostitutes; a young girl hides her identity to avoid sexual assault; an adult woman is presented as exploiting her sexuality to gain favor with powerful men. 

Language

Strong language, used in anger and in sharing stories of violence and poor fortune, including "shat," "crap," "whore," "balls," "arse," "arsehole," "f--k," "pissed," and "s--tty."

 

Consumerism

A few brands are mentioned: Coca-Cola, Nokia, BMW, Mxit, Weet-Bix, Isuzu, Nissan, Mercedes-Benz, Hyundai, Ray-Ban, Fanta, and Sparletta.

 

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Soldiers smoke and drink alcohol. Children use marijuana to ease pain from disease and injury. A former child soldier recalls being given drugs and alcohol.

 

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Diamond Boy by South African author Michael Williams, is a harrowing story of a teen whose life is turned upside-down in pursuit of wealth. Its historical backdrop is the Zimbabwean government's takeover of the Marange diamond mines in 2008. Casual, random violence is presented sparingly but is still horrific. Emotional trauma runs deep, both in the teen protagonist and everyone around him. Sexual violence is hinted at but not explicitly laid bare. Strong language includes "f--k" and "s--tty." The story is loosely tied to author Michael Williams' earlier novel, Now Is the Time for Running, but readers don't need to be familiar with that book to appreciate this one.

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What's the story?

Patson Moyo, 15, reluctantly heads to Marange with his poor schoolteacher father; his selfish stepmother, Sylvia; and his young sister, Grace. Sylvia promises "diamonds for everyone" at her brother's home, but then she joins her family in comfort, and Patson's family is relegated to a tobacco shed. With the local school closed, both Patson and his father head to the mines. Patson is soon entranced by the promise of diamonds, scheming to buy his family's freedom with help from fellow child miners. Before they can cash out, the army descends on the mines with guns blazing. Patson's dream disintegrates, Grace disappears, and Patson scrambles to save himself and his sister with the help of an unlikely protector.

Is it any good?

DIAMOND BOY pulls readers on an emotional, illuminating journey into a dark chapter of Zimbabwean history that remains unfinished. South African author Michael Williams' challenging story may be a bit much for less mature readers: The violence and uncertainty of the world he describes is deeply disturbing, but the sensitive portrayal of the Moyo family keeps it from being overwhelming.

The takeaway is comforting and hopeful, encouraging kids to wrestle with big questions about greed, generosity, moral corruption, courage, family, and risks and rewards. Patient readers will forgive the somewhat jumbled final stretch.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the violence and brutality of the story. Does it affect you the same way as violence in movies, or does this seem different? Do you think the story dwells too much on violence, or do you think it shields you from the worst of it?

  • How does this compare with other refugee stories you've read?

  • Parents may want to help children learn more about conflict diamonds (also known as blood diamonds) and the use of child slave labor. 

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