Akilah Hunter and Victoria Ojike are best friends, the kind of friends who can read each other's thoughts. But when Victoria goes to visit her grandmother in Nigeria, Akilah is troubled. She receives only two letters from her friend. Things are changing, Akilah can tell, and she does not like the changes. Mrs. Hunter, Akilah's social worker mother, was an "early bloomer" and all signs point to Akilah following in her mother's footsteps. Mrs. Hunter carefully and honestly explains the changes young girls go through as they become women, providing her daughter with the information she needs to know about the onset of menstruation. Needless to say, Akilah is not excited about these changes and launches a campaign to defy the lunar pull, to exercise, to do anything she can to slow the passage of time, at least until Victoria gets back from Africa.

Victoria does return from her trip, but she is not the same girl who left. The two friends enter fifth grade, where they have the teacher of their dreams, but something isn't right. Victoria is nothing like the smart, quick fourth-grader Akilah knew, and she seems intent on keeping to herself until one day in health class. When Victoria neglects to have her permission slip signed, Akilah thinks nothing of forging Mrs. Ojike's name. This little decision is what brings the secret out. After swearing Akilah to secrecy, Victoria plainly tells her friend that she isn't like the girls in the pictures in health class, that her aunties and grandmother in Nigeria took her to a doctor, where she had an operation that removed a section of her private parts so that she would no longer have any feeling "down there."

The topic of female circumcision (FGM, for female genital mutilation) is a difficult one. A custom that most of us in the Western world find horrible, the subject could seem sensational and simply shocking in less sensitive hands. Luckily, Williams-Garcia paints a wonderful picture of a strong-willed girl on the brink of womanhood. A powerful book that deals with an important and disturbing topic, <B>No Laughter Here</B> is a one-of-a-kind, coming-of-age novel that young readers will appreciate as their own lives change.

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