Review of Juma’s Rain
Juma’s Rain is a YA novel set in stone age Africa. That, in and of itself, peaked my interest. It’s a culture and time period I know nothing about. The author, Katharina Gerlach has brought the setting vividly to life. This is not a story where you could pick up all the characters and move them to another setting and have it work. The story arises from the setting and is unique to it. The characters also are firmly grounded in their setting.
The story opens with Juma leading her family to a gathering of all the tribe’s families to the main village. The lands they pass through are dying for lack of water; the rain goddess has not returned to water the land and the rains are long overdue. Even the tribe’s everlasting lake is nothing more than a puddle. The families are gathering so that the young women may discover their gifts and train for their life’s work. Juma, as the only daughter of the tribe’s missing chieftess, is determined to become the best chieftess ever.
But tribe politics and Juma’s own budding gifts stand in the way. That and the needs of the tribe also force her into a role she doesn’t want. From the author’s own description:
“Juma discovers that heat dæmon Mubuntu is out of control and that the rain goddess is still sleeping. But only Netinu, the [acting] chieftess’ son believes her, and he seems more interested in courting her than in the welfare of the tribe.
“With her dreams going up in flames, Juma prepares to battle the dæmon and wake the goddess — and maybe, in the process, prove herself worthy of becoming chieftess.” [Juma’s Rain intro, © 2015 Katharina Gerlach].
I found the story completely engaging; I couldn’t put it down. Juma is an extremely sympathetic character: no whiny teenager here. All of the characters in the novel are complex; there are no simple ‘bad guys’ and ‘good guys’; they all have many reasons for their actions. The author lets us meet these characters and gives us reasons to sympathize with them, even while rooting for Juma to succeed. There is a depth to this story so often lacking in YA fiction. This is a book that all adults can enjoy, young or old (or everything in between). There is some sex in the book, but it’s handled with dignity, with the actual act itself taking place off-stage.
In brief, I loved this book and hope that Gerlach revisits this world with another book. Juma’s Rain is currently available in German in paperback and Kindle format. Pre-orders for the Kindle English edition are available now and the book is scheduled for delivery November 15, 2015.
Housekeeping: I did receive a free review copy of this book, but I have received no other compensation from this author. This review is my honest opinion.by