City of Saints and Thieves by Natalie C. Anderson (2017)

This mystery, set in Kenya and the Congo, packs an emotional and disturbing punch.

Recommended grade level: mature 8th graders and up

Pages:   401 (for ISBN 9780399547584)

Genre(s) and keywords: mystery, thriller, realistic, diverse, international, Africa (Kenya and the Congo)

Tone/Style: gritty

Pace: moderate

Topics: murder, investigations, refugees

Themes: family, trust, revenge, traumatic family history

Summary: In the shadows of Sangui City, there lives a girl who doesn’t exist. After fleeing the Congo as refugees, Tina and her mother arrived in Kenya looking for the chance to build a new life and home. Her mother quickly found work as a maid for a prominent family, headed by Roland Greyhill, one of the city’s most respected business leaders. But Tina soon learns that the Greyhill fortune was made from a life of corruption and crime. So when her mother is found shot to death in Mr. Greyhill’s personal study, she knows exactly who’s behind it.

With revenge always on her mind, Tina spends the next four years surviving on the streets alone, working as a master thief for the Goondas, Sangui City’s local gang. It’s a job for the Goondas that finally brings Tina back to the Greyhill estate, giving her the chance for vengeance she’s been waiting for. But as soon as she steps inside the lavish home, she’s overtaken by the pain of old wounds and the pull of past friendships, setting into motion a dangerous cascade of events that could, at any moment, cost Tina her life. But finally uncovering the incredible truth about who killed her mother—and why—keeps her holding on in this fast-paced nail-biting thriller. (Source)

Who will like this book?: It’s hard to find good mystery/thriller books that don’t dip into sci-fi or fantasy. Give this book to readers seeking gritty, realistic adventure and mystery. It’s also a good one for those who like to read about countries and cultures that may be unfamiliar to them.

Who won’t like this book?: This is not for sensitive readers. The characters discuss some disturbing sexual violence (though it doesn’t actually happen on the page, and isn’t described in detail.) The subject is treated respectfully and highlights an important real-life issue, but some readers may not be ready for it.

Other comments: I just noticed that this book has the subject heading “Blacks–Congo (Democratic Republic)–Fiction.” Wtf is with that? We don’t say “Whites–America–Fiction.” Can somebody get on this, please?

Sequel(s):

Readalikes: I really wish I didn’t have to select readalikes based on the broad shared criteria of being adventures set in Africa. We really need more books about this part of the world. Until that day comes, this is the best I know how to do. Golden Boy by Tara Sullivan is an adventure about an albino boy who journeys across Tanzania pursued by poachers. Sullivan’s The Bitter Side of Sweet illustrates modern-day slavery on the Ivory Coast. Now is the Time for Running and Diamond Boy by Michael Williams are thrillers set in Zimbabwe. A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park illustrates the plight of Sudanese refugees. For an African story that is a little different, I recommend the fantasy Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor.

-Kylie Peters

Image: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/29995905-city-of-saints-thieves

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