ZIM09.jpg A Girl Named Disaster by Nancy Farmer. Published in 1996

A Girl Named Disaster is about a young, Shona girl named Nhamo. The story begins in Mozambique, Africa where Nhamo lives with her Aunt Chipo and her Uncle Kufa. Nhamo has lived with them since the passing of her mother; her father had left when she was quite young. Her Aunt Chipo is her mother’s sister, who dislikes Nhamo. She is seen more as a slave than a niece to her aunt. As long as Nhamo keeps up with her chores and makes sure that her Aunt Chipo is happy, she does not have to worry about not having a place to live.

When Nhamo’s cousin, Masvita, comes of age and enters her years of womanhood, Nhamo begins to wonder when she will enter womanhood. It is during this time that she realizes in order to become a Mhandara (young woman) she will need the blessing of her father and his family. This poses a problem because Nhamo does not know her father and does not know where he is.

After her realization many other events take place in the village. People begin to get sick and die; a cholera epidemic breaks out. Many of the villagers believe it is the work of a witch that is among them. In order to find out who it is and what they should do, some of the families, in the village, travel to visit the Muvuki (a medical specialist who deals with causes of death).

After their journey to see the Muvuki, Nhamo is told that she must marry an older man at the age of eleven. She sees the way her life would be; trapped like a prisoner and alone with no family. She does not want this for herself and decides to run away and search for her father.

This pivotal moment takes Nhamo on a journey of her own to Zimbabwe. The journey takes Nhamo through many challenges where she must use her strength of spirit and mind. She is tested in every aspect and ultimately finds herself and the courage that had always been there. She realizes the woman that she is and has become and she finds that she is never alone. With the help of the Shona spirits and a new found courage, within herself, Nhamo finds the life and meaning she always longed for.

This story is intriguing through Nhamos journey, which never seems to end. A Girl Named Disaster takes the reader deep into the African customs and shows how the Shona people believed in the spirit world. Nhamo is the Shona word for disaster. Nhamo's life might be a disaster but the novel isn't. This is a wonderful tale of trust, chances, love and friendship. What was supposed to have been a short boat trip across the boarder to find her father turns into an adventure filled with challenges and danger that spans a year. This novel tells the reader that they shouldn't give up on their dreams and what they are trying to accomplish. Reaching their goals might be difficult but you must work through those obstacles to reach the end result. If using this novel in a classroom it can help students see you can read for many different reasons. For example, students can experience both "efferent" (reading for information) and "aesthetic" (reading as a personal and emotional experience). Through all the suspense students might not realize how much they are learning about another culture. This novel as a whole shows the reader that as long as you beileve in what you are doing and believe in yourself you can do just about anything.

This novel has mostly been recommended for ages 11 and up.

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The map shown above is where Nhamo began and ended her journey. This map shows where Nhamo's village was located along with other important places.


Nancy Farmer has written three Newbery Honor Books: The Ear the Eye and the Arm; A Girl Named Disaster; and The House of the Scorpion, which, in 2002, also won the National Book Award. Other books include Do You Know Me, The Warm Place, and three picture books for young children. Nancy Farmer never intended to be a writer. Rather, the award-winning childen's author says, "I wanted to be an explorer . . . to go out and have adventures and have fun." Although she's no Christopher Columbus, Farmer has certainly had her share of adventures, from spending three years in the Peace Corps in southern India to living in a California temple with a group of Hare Krishnas. Eventually, she says, "I wanted to do something interesting, so I bought a ticket on a freighter to Africa." She ended up spending nearly 20 years in Africa.
To watch a video about Nancy Farmer and some of her other books, click on the link below!

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