Summary: Sixteen year-old Chanda has a lot of responsibility on her shoulders. After the death of her youngest sibling, Sarah, her Mama is sick with grief and something else, and her step-father is drinking and sleeping around to forget. Chanda’s family lives in a community where gossip is rampant and reputation is everything, so when Chanda suspects her mother may actually have AIDS, she keeps it to herself. But the secrets in Chanda’s life are building up, and when her Mama goes away on a trip she doesn’t return from, Chanda must find the courage to break through the silence to care for the people she loves.
Number of Pages: 193
Age Range: 14-16
Review: I was completely engrossed by Chanda’s Secrets. Allan Stratton’s story flow beautifully, and it is a story about family, love, and the power of the truth. I had read Borderline by Stratton before and liked it, but Chanda’s Secrets was above and beyond my expectations.
Just as Sharon E. MacKay’s War Brothers fictionalizes the story of child soldiers, so Stratton fictionalizes a real life tragedy of AIDS in Africa. While being a good read, it’s also an educational one that opens up a previously taboo subject through the simple act of writing about it. It’s not a story about the day-to-day grind about living with illness, instead it is about having the courage to tell the truth and to be honest about what’s going on, even if it’s a topic that causes embarrassment or others consider it to be shameful.
The part I liked best was Chanda’s righteous anger. She’s surrounded by secrets – some are her own but most are the secrets of those around her – living in a place where keeping those secrets is encouraged. When it gets to be too much and Chanda realises keeping secrets isn’t helping anyone, she reacts with anger toward others who keep the truth from her. Her anger helps fuel change because ultimately Chanda realises she isn’t willing to play by the rules anymore.
Mostly though, Chanda is driven by a fierce love for her family. And reading about how that love unfolds was a true pleasure.
“Hearing ‘I’m sorry’ is nice. What I hate is: ‘It’s for the best. Sara’s with God.’ I want to say, ‘If being with God’s for the best, why don’t you go kill yourself?’ I also hate, ‘Trust God. He has a reason.’ I want to say, ‘Oh? Is it the same reason He made you stupid and ugly?'” – Chanda from Chanda’s Secret by Allan Stratton, page 53
“We stare at each other. Time disappears. I feel the world turn calm. My shoulders melt. I close my eyes. I see Mama, big the way she used to be. Her arms cradle me. I hear the sound of her laughter, rich and round. My heart glowed with her warmth.” – Chanda from Chanda’s Secret by Allan Stratton, page 128
“I’m not the only one waiting for Mama to call. Before supper on Monday, Soly’s sitting at the side of the road. He’s been going there to wait for Mama ever since she left.
I watch him from the window. He was patiently. Then a butterfly will flutter by and he’ll chase it. Or he’ll squat down and stare at an anthill or do a somersault. Or make up a song.
That’s what he’s doing now as I sneak up behind him. It’s a simple song: ‘Oh, I’m waiting, I’m waiting, I’m waiting, I’m waiting, I’m sitting here waiting for Mama, just sitting here waiting for Mama, just sitting here waiting, and waiting, and waiting…’
Hearing his thin, tiny voice waver in the breeze overwhelms me. Soly catches me listening. He stops singing, and stares at the ground as if he’s been doing something bad.
‘What’s the matter?’ I sit beside him.
A pause. Then he says in a quiet voice, ‘I was singing.’
‘I know. It was nice.’
His forehead wrinkles up with questions. ‘You mean it’s all right to sing…to play…to have fun…with Mama gone?’
‘Yes.’ I squeeze him. ‘ Mama want us to be happy.'” – Conversation between Chanda and Soly from Chanda’s Secrets by Allan Stratton, page 136
“When I don’t laugh back, she turns on the radio to the Bible station. A preacher says: ‘ The Lord never gives up more than we can bear.’ I think of Mama. I think of Esther. I want to smash his face in.” – Chanda from Chanda’s Secrets by Allan Stratton, page 162
“‘No. You listen to me, Mrs. Tafa,’ I shout. ‘I’m tied of lies and hiding and being afraid. I’m not ashamed of AIDS! I’m ashamed of being ashamed!'” – Chanda from Chanda’s Secrets by Allan Stratton, page 181
“Mama said I should save my anger to fight injustice. Well, I know what’s unjust. The ignorance about AIDS. The shame. The stigma. The silence. The secrets that keep us hiding behind the curtain. The Welcome Centre throws back that curtain. It lets in the fresh air and light.” – Chanda from Chanda’s Secrets by Allan Stratton, pages 192-193