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4.3 out of 5 stars33
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on 11 February 2010
This novel is set in Zimbabwe in the early years of the Mugabe government after a long, bitter bush war and struggle for black independence. The story takes place at a prestigious boys private boarding school with traditions steeped in the past (the house names at the school are all former colonial heroes). In an era of peace, freedom and hope for the new Zimbabwe the school is struggling to adapt to the changed environment and the admission of black teachers and students. However, a significant number of its pupils are the sons of white farmers who were at the frontline of the 'lost' bush war and the beginning of the possible confiscation of white farms. For them the new Zimbabwe serves only to breed resentment, reinforce their deep racial prejudices and fears for their livelihood.

Add in the traditional boarding school elements of bullying, deference, loneliness and the struggle to make friends and alliances and there are all the ingredients to craft an interesting novel.

Thrown into this mix and starting at the school as a junior, is a young English schoolboy, Robert Jacklin, son of idealistic but dysfunctional parents starting a new life and career in Zimbabwe. Wrenched from his schooling in rural England and oblivious to the racial tensions of his new country, he is jettisoned into this alien and hostile environment. Desperate to return 'home', he struggles to fit in, and the story deals with his dilemma to find his courage to defend his new black friend against the racist bullying but at the same time build alliances with some of the stronger (and nastier) elements to protect himself from violent abuse such as from the conniving and manipulative Ivan.

Some of those alliances lead to his involvement in a dangerous and violent plot to try to 'turn the clock back' to before independence and his internal battle to extricate himself from this plot and dig deep to find the courage to do what he knows is right, taking on the hateful Ivan, with no support from his parents or teachers.

This is a very compelling debut novel. The author, Jason Wallace, manages to evoke the African setting, scenery, language and hope and anxiety of the period with great skill and in a way that makes the book fast paced and captivating. The characters are rich and complex and are well developed in the context of the era they are set in. For example that complexity even draws sympathy from the reader for Ivan in certain contexts, such as the ease with which he plays football with his father's black farm workers' children. There are other endearing characters such as Weekend, the telephone operator, who gets to know Jacklin, on account of the many desperate telephone calls back home to his parents, and who in a sense represents the average aspirant black Zimbabwean who held great hopes for his future in the new Zimbabwe in those years but who in the end probably personified the real losers in the long corrupt Mugabe regime.

The final chapter of the book, after an enthralling crescendo in the plot, is poignant and thought provoking. I thoroughly enjoyed this novel and would recommend it to anyone who has an interest in that part of the world or that era.
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on 11 March 2010
I was bowled over by this book. I have to confess to a family connection to the author, but that doesn't affect what I thought of the book one bit, except that I wouldn't normally pick up a book supposedly aimed at young adults. For a start I was fascinated to see how Jason Wallace's own teenage years had been transformed by a vivid imagination into fiction. At least, I hope it's fiction, as I was really shocked by the violence of the boys towards one another. It was brave, too, to tackle such difficult moral themes in a first novel, and against a background about which so little has been written, in fiction at least.

I wouldn't consider it a book for young adults particularly - I think it was a great adult read, and had me turning the pages far into the night to see what happened next. And it really made me think and reflect long after I'd put down the book. I do hope someone snaps up the screen rights: as I was reading it, I could quite clearly see what it would look like on film. Like other reviewers, I can't wait to see what this author produces next.
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Out of Shadows is one of the best debut novels I've ever read. It's fantastically written, and has left me close to how I felt when I read The Book Thief for the first time. It's powerful and important, and at times horribly shocking. I sat there in stunned silence after reading one particular page, and had to take a minute to fully comprehend what had happened. That's strong writing, if ever I saw it.

Out of Shadows begins in 1983, a few years after the end of the Rhodesian Bush War (or the Zimbabwe War of Liberation). Robert Mugabe is now Prime Minister, and Zimbabwe is no longer ruled by white people. I hardly knew anything about this historical event before reading this book, and so once again I was given a history lesson. It's very interesting, and is the first time I've come across this setting in a YA book.

Robert Jacklin is a very likeable character for most of the book, and I'm so glad it's written in the first person. He started off as an unassuming 13-year-old, and grew into a strong, decent man right before my eyes. He has more tough decisions to make and bad choices to live with than anyone that age should, but each shapes his life and who he becomes. His friends are a less desirable bunch, and though I see why Robert was so eager to be part of their group, things would have been vastly different if he'd stayed well away.

At times chilling and dark, yet strangely hopeful, Out of Shadows is one of those books that I know I'll revisit in the future. I've been thinking about it ever since I finished it, and am finding it hard to get it out of my head. I can't recommend it highly enough, and I hope it eventually gets the recognition and praise it deserves.
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on 16 February 2010
I would not ordinarily read a book like this but I was pleased I did. It is wonderfully evocative of time, place and adolescence. I challenge anyone not to identify with, be interested in and care for all the characters (both good and bad) - there is a lot in the book that reminded me of what it was like to be at school and to yearn for acceptance and friendship and simultaneously to be yourself.

The writing is both strong and elegant. Importantly (for me), I never felt I was reading a book aimed at young adults - there is plenty for adults in there with some brutal and horrific events that change the characters' lives forever. Most novels I have read that are aimed at younger readers tend to not have this degree of quality and I often find the plot and pace a little simple and shallow. Both the plot and pace here are excellent. Nothing feels false and manufactured - it has the depth and complexity of real life.

I was hooked straight away and read the entire book in three sittings. From the midpoint of the book I could not stop, and read the last 150 pages into the early hours of the morning - I literally could not stop until I knew what happened to everyone.

Next book please!
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on 7 April 2011
Wow. This book is incredible. It's a book that I read a few weeks ago and still my brain is buzzing about it. A very big thank you to Sarah at Andersen for sending this book to me for review. Out of Shadows by Jason Wallace won the Costa Children's Book Award, and it fully deserves every good word ever said about it. It is so emotional and powerful.

I can't say that I knew much about Zimbabwe or how Robert Mugabe came into power until this book. It's set in the mid 1980s after the fighting had died down - and a new independence has been won. But still, the lingering resentments and bitterness between the different racial groups in the country are unsettling and haven't been resolved.

Our main character, Robert Jacklin, is an English boy who comes to live in Zimbabwe after his idealistic father takes a job with the embassy. Robert begins life in a boarding school making choices and throughout his academic career and in his personal life he continues to make choices, for right or wrong as he decides where his sympathies lie and what he believes. Jacko, as he's called, despite misgivings, throws his lot in with Ivan, an angry boy who at first bullies Robert and then becomes his friend.

And as we see this new country and this new environment and characters from Robert Jacklin's point of view, the reader can understand and almost sympathise when Jacko continues to make bad decision after bad decision in order to have status at his new school, in order to fit in with this new group of friends. At every turn I wanted Jacko to make different choices and to stand up for himself and those around him, especially as the bullying and the racism intensifies. I think it really shows the skill of Jason Wallace as an author, that Robert Jacklin is such a sympathetic character despite his friendship with Ivan, the school bully and tormentor. And despite Jacko's involvement in it all, I still carried with me the hope that Jacko will choose differently, that things can still end up well.

I really loved this book. I stayed up too late reading it, I felt emotionally connected to the story and the characters and I loved that it taught me something about a period of time I knew nothing previously. It's a very powerful first novel and it really made me think. In fact, I'm still thinking about this book and will do for a very long time. A really wonderful book.
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on 12 March 2010
Not an easy read this, but I was gripped. It tells of the bitter and disturbing experiences of a boy in Zimbabwe just after independence. I wonder if the school he describes could have been quite as Dickensian, but am prepared to suspend disbelief. I am rather surprised this has been shunted into the YA ghetto, since it would undoubtedly interest an adult audience and it has an attractive, eyecatching cover too.
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on 12 August 2011
Absolutely loved this book. I took it away with me on holiday and read it within 3 days as i couldn't put it down. Having being raised in Zimbabwe and father coming from there, the story is emotional, impactful and chilling in every way.
A must read for all.
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on 1 March 2011
This book is amazing. Not only does it show the life of a boy as he is growing up, but it also describes the changes to life in zimbabwe as mugabe takes power. The book gives a fair portrayal and you really feel for the main character throughout the book. The last few chapters are the most compelling. At the end of the book you cant feel amazed at the journey you have taken by just reading the book.
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This is a very powerful book about a teenage boy struggling to find his way in a school he doesn't understand and a country he doesn't understand. Robert's life is turned upside down when his father takes a job in Zimbabwe, the Zimbabwe of Robert Mugabe in the Eighties. Robert is unhappy and adrift in his new life, and being sent to an all boys boarding school where bullying, racism and hatred are every day occurences does not make life any easier. Robert is an outsider who wrestles with his conscience and his beliefs, struggling to balance friendships with the need to survive the harsh regimes of the school and those who wield power. This is a violent, miserable book which shows the harsh realities of trying to make your way in a complex world full of rivalries and history that you don't understand. I cannot say I enjoyed it, but I did find it compelling.
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on 25 February 2010
Brilliant! Couldn't put it down the moment I started reading. I'm chomping at the bit for the next book from Jason Wallace.
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