I decided to pick up City of Saints and Thieves because of its setting- Sangui City, an imaginary city in Kenya based on Nairobi. The author, Natalie Anderson spent the past decade in Africa working for NGOs, so I presumed her depiction of the continent would be pretty accurate. Considering the vastness and cultural diversity of Africa, it is shockingly sad that there re so few Young Adult novels set in the area. Needless to say, I was very glad to find Anderson’s debut.
After reading Anderson’s vivid, gritty depictions of Kenya and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), I am especially disappointed in the lack of YA novels set in Africa. City of Saints and Thieves follows Tina, a teenage member of one of Sangui City’s most notorious gangs, the Goondas. Before joining the Goondas, Tina’s family fled the DRC for Kenya and her family worked for an affluent businessman on Sangui City’s “Hill,” (where the wealthy live). Tina joins the Goondas after her mother is murdered, by who she believes is their former employer, Mr. G. As Tina travels to find out who killed her mother and to exact her revenge, she listens to other women’s stories of the atrocities that led her mother to flee the DRC with Tina and her unborn sister.
City of Saints and Thieves is a relevant novel because of its description of the human rights violations happening every day in the DRC. Unfortunately, I did not ever come to love Tina. She’s described as tough as nails, but sometimes falls a little flat, especially when she says she’s “not like other girls.” This comment is misogynistic because of the implication of “other girls” as being bad or inadequate. With the feminist message this novel is trying to convey, sentiments like Tina’s can be confusing and a little hypocritical.
Natalie Anderson’s City of Saints and Thieves is a good read- if not for the setting and message alone. It is very important to address the issues of the systemic kidnapping, rape, and murder of African women and refugees.