3 out of 4 stars
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Ghost Boys is a young adult novel written by Shenaaz Nanji. The novel opens with Munna, a young Indian boy, and his family awaiting his sister Didi’s arrival from her wedding. Instead of a joyous return, Didi is heart-broken after being rejected by her fiancé’s family due to her small dowry. Later that night, Munna seeks Didi out to comfort her, but instead discovers that she has committed suicide. Due to the shame associated with Didi’s suicide, Munna’s mother’s catering business is suffering. Munna decides to help his family by getting a job. Through his uncle Suraj, Munna finds employment in the Middle East working for a sheikh. Munna is promised extravagant working conditions and pay. The reality is far from this. Suraj has sold him to the master of a ousbah, a camel farm. In addition to his own suffering, Munna discovers that the riders of the camels, or camel boys, are purposely starved so that they remain small enough to ride the animals. Can Munna survive in the ousbah without compromising his morals? Will he be able to escape and return home to his family?
Ghost Boys was an insightful look into the camel racing industry. I had no idea of the atrocities associated with it. For example, all of the camel boys’ weights were required to remain under 40 pounds. This is especially startlingly when you consider that the oldest boy was 12 years old. My favorite character in the book is Munna. Without factoring in his struggles on the ousbah, Munna has led a difficult life. His father left him and his family in poverty. As a result, Munna was considered cursed and was forced to change his name. Despite his struggles, Munna remains a strong and optimistic boy. I admired that he stuck to his morals even when it may have been simpler to take the easy way out. Additionally, I thought that his relationship with Babur, one of the camel boys, was well-developed and added more depth to both of their characters. By the end of the story, Babur becomes vastly more confident. Another character who displayed immense character development was Akber. Akber is the best camel jockey, but he has a very negative and self-centered personality. This is understandable considering his background and his current circumstances. Through Munna’s encouragement, Akber becomes more of a team player. I also enjoyed the way that Nanji approached Master’s character. While Master was cruel to the boys, he also had his good moments. I could empathize with his sorrow about losing his family and his disgust concerning the burn marks that covered his body. I appreciate that Nanji did not make him a one-dimensional character.
One thing that bothered me about the book was the lack of quotation marks. While they were used properly most of the time, the author frequently used colons to separate dialogue or stories. While technically not incorrect, this made it difficult at times to tell where dialogue began and ended. I also would had liked to have known more about Suraj. His intentions were never completely explained. Was he completely selfish and only out to make money off Munna? Did he honestly think that he was helping Munna? While Munna’s perspective was explained in-depth, Nanji never elaborated about what happened to his family after he left India. I would have liked to have know more about how they fared emotionally and financially.
Ghost Boys contained grammatical, spelling, and formatting errors. While they were not serious enough that they detracted from my enjoyment of the book, they indicated that the book had not yet been professionally edited. One example included the repetition of the author’s note section four times.
I rate Ghost Boys 3 out of 4 stars. While I thought the story was engaging and well-written, the lack of professional editing and unanswered questions prevent me from giving it four out of four stars. I would highly recommend this book to readers interested in human rights and the Middle East. However, the book contains mentions of suicide and child-abuse. Audiences who are sensitive to such content may not want to read this book.
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