Allison's Book Bag

The Paper House by Lois Peterson

Posted on: March 26, 2013

The Paper House by Lois Peterson delivers an important message about finding hope in the slums of Nairobi, Africa. Unfortunately, I found it less inspirational than many of the multicultural books I’ve recently read. For example, the setting of The Glass Collector (which admittedly was written for older youth) is more textured, and the main character of The Hijab Boutique has a more vivid personality. Over all, The Paper House was an average but forgettable read.

From the very beginning, the story’s setting falls flat. Yes, there are references to mud huts, heat and flies, and garbage heaps. These all do help distinguish the setting; however, the references are repeated frequently as stock phrases and few are expanded upon with sensory details. This results in descriptions that feel like those that anyone could lift from third-party research instead of ones that arose from first-hand encounters. The harder readers are pulled into the slums, the greater reasons they will have to root for the families trapped in its poverty. The visceral descriptions critical to this type of hardship-based fiction are unfortunately lacking.

The characters are more developed, but ultimately failed to captivate me. Safiyah and her grandmother have recently moved to the city of Kibera. While rummaging through the dump, Safiyah runs into Rasul who is apparently a gang leader. While I appreciate that Peterson shows a kinder side of Rasul, she never makes it clear why Rasul should even be considered a bad kid nor does she explain why he develops a friendship with Safiyah. The story does tell us more about Safiyah: She helps her grandmother when a nearby house burns down, creates a collage to brighten the outside of their home, fights with her friend about the arrangement of the collage, etc. Safiyah is a sweet girl trying to make the most of her poor circumstances.

According to Peterson’s blog, her book inspired one student to raise money for the children of Kibera. The Paper House does contain facts about Kibera in its back pages and would make an ideal discussion book about third-world countries. I doubt though that average readers will find it engaging outside of an educational context.

My rating? Leave it: Don’t even take it off the shelves. Not recommended.

How would you rate this book?

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