In the midst of a reading rut, I turned to the Barnes and Noble best seller list to get me away from exclusively reading “Jane Eyre” and metaphors about heavy high school work loads in “College Essays that Worked.” Since I haven’t read a mystery since I was reading the “Nancy Drew” books in elementary school, young adult mystery “City of Saints and Thieves” by Natalie C. Anderson stood out to me. I hoped it would distract me from the stressors of college applications. While the unique setting — in the urban city of Sangui, Kenya — successfully did this, the blunt writing style made me feel like I was reading at a middle school level.
“City of Saints and Thieves” follows the story of Tina, a teenage girl living alone on the streets in Sangui after her mother was murdered four years prior. Tina thrives as a thief with the “Goonda” gang, but stereotypically wants revenge on a grey-haired Roland Greyhill, a business fraud who she believes shot her mother.
With the help of the Goondas, Tina plotted to break into the home of Greyhill. But when Tina is caught by Greyhill’s son, Michael, they agree that Tina won’t expose Greyhill until after Michael helps her find out if he is the actual killer.
This book, set in modern day Africa where Anderson has done research, was a refreshing change of pace compared to the New York and Chicago based books I normally read. Anderson’s history of working with the United Nations on refugee relief equips her with knowledge of the culture that makes me feel like I know the characters. The setting gave me a new view of urban African that kept me reading to learn about culture.
Anderson’s extensive research also played a major part in the character development and diversity. Tina is black, but her sister and Michael, who both have white dads, are interracial. Anderson gives insight on what it means to be “mixed” in Africa and a degree of discrimination on those who are of mixed descent, a problem I hadn’t even considered.
While Anderson’s knowledge of refugee culture in Africa kept me enthralled in the dilemma of finding Tina’s mother’s killer, her writing style took some getting used to. I could tell where Anderson was coming from when she used short, concise sentences for dramatic effect, but she used the technique too often, leaving me feeling like I was in middle school again.
In writing “City of Saints and Thieves” Anderson seemed to lay everything on the table and draw conclusions for the reader. She ruined the fun of figuring out a mystery book; I didn’t have to deduce anything for myself, eliminating the need to note clues and symbols that would usually keep me interested.
It may sound trivial and insignificant at first, but the huge font size that looked like it belonged in a special edition made for 80 year-olds distracted me from the actual words. If you’re someone who has the option to read on an e-book, this is a book I would opt to read on a screen since you can change type size.
Despite this, “City of Saints and Thieves” did what I wanted it to. It distracted me from the sluggish plot of “Jane Eyre” and gave my brain a break from college essay writing. However the straightforwardness and dramatic writing made me feel like I was reading below my grade level. If you’re looking for a quick, Sunday afternoon read, this is the book for you, but don’t expect a challenging or existentially thought provoking novel. This book probably won’t go down as a classic, but was worth a couple of hours.