“Even to the strangers, I am strange,” remarks 13-year-old Habo, short for Dhahabo, which means “golden” in his home country of Tanzania. The teen never feels the warmth suggested by his special name, given to him for his light appearance due to albinism, but is instead an outcast in his world. With a father who abandoned the family after Habo’s birth, a mother who rarely touches him and an embarrassed brother who encourages taunting, Habo has spent most of his life alone.
When Habo’s family is faced with losing their meager farm, they head to their Auntie’s house in Mwanza. Upon their arrival, Habo quickly learns that this superstitious city is dangerous for a zeruzeru (literally, “zero-zero”) or person with albinism. Witch doctors hunt people like Habo to kill them and sell their body parts to those who believe they bring good luck. If Habo can reach the city of Dar es Salaam, where albino ministers of parliament serve, he may finally find a place to feel at ease. But first he must outrun an evil poacher who will stop at nothing to track and kill him. Their heart-stopping chase across cities leaves readers with Habo’s palpable fear until the final pages.
In a riveting teen novel, a Tanzanian boy with albinism searches for a place to belong.
In Golden Boy, first-time author Tara Sullivan brings to light this lesser-known and growing human rights problem, which occurs in several East African nations where the rate of albinism is higher than in other parts of the world. In telling the story, Sullivan sprinkles in phrases from Habo’s native language and facts about people with albinism, including their poor eyesight and increased susceptibility to skin cancer. She bases the harrowing account on actual events and shows how strange notions of good luck cross all socioeconomic levels.
Sullivan offers hope, too, through a blind sculptor who “sees” Habo’s true spirit and encourages his self-esteem. An author’s note and other resources provide more information on the teen’s plight, in the hope that Habo’s story will move many readers to take action.