The Year the Gypsies Came
Set in South Africa during Apartheid (1960s), this is a story told by Emily. Shes twelve, and her sister Sarah is fifteen. Theirs is a damaged and dysfunctional family, though the sisters love each other. Their mother is a faded beauty living in the past and emotionally distant from her failing marriage. Their father is a presence barely felt in the home at all.
The parents distract themselves from their problems by letting strangers frequently camp out or live with them. These transient visitors provide (usually) a somewhat welcome respite from the tension that builds between the two adults. The girls are the ones caught in the crossfire.
A family comes to stay in a camper. The father is boisterous and the mother fairly quiet. But it is the boys that ultimately impact Emilys family. Streak is the younger one and he and Emily develop a tenuous friendship that both of them seem to both run from and to. Otis is the older brother and he is mentally handicapped.
Emily often turns to Buza, their old Zulu night watchman, for comfort, strength, and stories. But even Buza cannot help when Otis attraction to Sarah turns into something dark and uncontrollable.
Intertwined with the story of this dysfunctional family are observations about Apartheid and racism. Everyone is broken here, in this story. If youre like me, youll come away from it feeling sad and deflated. But, there can be beauty in tragedy.
Recommended for readers aged 14 and up (officially, the publisher says 12 and up).