Title: I Needed a Neighbour
Author: Patricia St. John
Major Themes: Africa, Famine, Slavery, Christian Fiction
Synopsis: After her parents are shipped south against their will, can Mehrit and her little brother survive despite their war-torn and famine-reduced surroundings?
I began I Needed a Neighbour near the end of last year, but only got a few pages into it. I was reading several other books at the time, and it didn’t catch my interest fast enough so it eventually got put back on the “try again later” pile. Just recently, I picked it up again, and was pleasantly surprised at how interesting the story was, despite the fact that it’s a small book and one that was a little difficult to get into! I’ve always enjoyed Patricia St. John’s books, having heard some of them from a very young age, so it was fun to be able to add another to the stack of ones I’ve read by her.
“Your children are lost and far away, victims of an evil system, but you still love them and will travel any distance to find them. So God travelled a great distance to come to us. He became man; the man Jesus.” —Isaak
When fourteen-year-old Mehrit receives word that her parents were rounded up at the local market and shipped south to the coffee plantations, her hope for the future seems to crumble around her. They had already been struggling to survive what with food shortages due to war and famine conditions the last few years, but now with her parents gone—and with them all income and the chance to get food—she and her four-year-old brother must somehow survive on their own. She decides to head over the mountains into rebel territory, where her grandparents live, because if they are to die they may as well die with family. But what will become of them if their grandparents aren’t where they last saw them? Will they be able to survive until the famine breaks—and can they ever be a complete family once again?
“When a man brings his personal sin or tragedy to the crucified Saviour, he bears it for us and gives us pardon, peace and triumph in its place. We can put it, by faith, into his hands. It comes in contact with his wounds and his love bathes it. Nothing totally committed to those hands can ultimately turn out evil. He will make something beautiful of it. But we have to choose.” —Isaak
I Needed a Neighbour is incredibly sad in many ways. As a book about one country’s struggle to survive despite the famine and the war, it isn’t an easy read. The sad thing is—most of what’s in the book is the kind of stuff that happens every day (or at least very frequently) in Africa. For some people, that’s how their way of life has been for years. Those that escape the guns and soldiers might eventually get to safety in a refugee camp—and those that don’t make it are left behind on the trail. The beautiful thing about this story is how the light of Christ pierces through the clouds of despair when there seems to be no out. It may not have been as strong in this book as it is in some, but it was there—and it provided a golden thread that made this story one of hope, instead of one of ultimate despair.
WARNING: A young woman is in labor and has a baby (not described in detail) in chapter 4, pages 36-39. A character takes God’s name in vain in chapter 11, page 87. Throughout the story, there are mentions of children very sick and some who die. While the refugees are trying to get to a camp there is an air raid and many die (chapter 6, pages 55-56). It also tells a little about how the people in coffee plantations were treated (not in much detail) and about the guards shooting at them and starting a fire as a few people tried to escape (chapter 7, again not in much detail).
Listening Level—Ages 8 – 12, 10 – 12, Family Friendly
Reading Independently—Ages 10 – 12, 12 – 15, 15 and Above