Helen doesn"t want to stay in the fattening hut. She"s told her mother that she"s too young, not ready for it. Why must she marry so soon? She doesn"t want to gorge on rich meals for months--until she is round and heavy, like a good bride should be. Just like her mother and sister before her, just like all the women of her tribe. When she finds out the terrible secret the fattening hut harbors, she becomes even more confused and defiant. Lonely, scared, and feeling hemmed in by family, by culture, and by tradition, Helen fights for the chance to be educated, young, and free.
The narrator is Helen, a girl of 14 who has been taught to read by her aunt, a rebel force in their male-dominated culture and the woman who will prove to be Helen's rescuer. Helen is an active person who has roamed her island in the company of a boy, Ashani, who also becomes part of the rescue operation. But Helen seems to have no power at first to resist the traditions of her people. She must enter the fattening hut, accompanied by her older sister who is married with a nursing baby, and eat and eat until she is given in marriage to the man her parents have chosen for her--an older man with nothing appealing about him, as far as Helen is concerned. What Helen doesn't know, but learns, is that part of the ritual of the fattening hut is that when she is fat enough, it will be time for the circumcision, a brutal cutting of her genitalia. The details of this circumcision are narrated carefully, with the meaning clear enough but events not graphically depicted--so middle school readers would be able to handle it. As with most YA novels written as poetry, fewer words are used but the impact of each word and the tempo of the narrative drive readers on. An unusual book. Claire Rosser, KLIATT