Caroline B. Cooney,
Diamonds in the Shadow
(Delacorte Press, 2007)

Teenager Jared Finch's family is sponsoring a family of four, refugees fleeing Africa, and he is not at all happy about it. In the first place, he'll have to share his bedroom with Mattu, the son of the family. He'll have to share his school, his friendships, his life with him, and he resents not only the refugees but his own family.

Even though the family seems a little odd upon arrival, any strangeness is chalked up to stress from their ordeal, and Jared's mother plunges headfirst into the task of acclimating them to life in the United States. Jared's distance from the situation gives him a different perspective, and he becomes increasingly suspicious of the family: Andre, Celine, Mattu and Alake.

What the Finches don't know is that a fifth African disembarked from the same plane, a man who is a grave danger to the other four, and who will do anything to retrieve the rough diamonds. Inevitably, their paths collide, placing everyone in danger, including the Finch family.

Cooney does an excellent job of portraying the community that welcomes the refugees. While the generosity and effort put forth cannot be denied, Cooney is up front about depicting some of the things that can hamper such a sponsorship, however unintentional. Mrs. Finch tends to infantilize the refugees, doing things for them and keeping them from learning to do things for themselves. Mopsy, Jared's sixth-grader sister, treats the silent and withdrawn daughter Alake more like a pet than a human being. Both characters mean well, but end up hindering when they want to help.

Cooney is a veteran writer for teens, and she knows how to develop an engaging plot. She uses multiple viewpoints to move the plot along effectively, especially with Alake's horrifying interior monologue about what she had endured. Cooney is frank about the refugees' experiences without sensationalizing their ordeals. The story would have been engaging without the diamond-smuggling subplot, but the suspenseful and fast-paced ending goes a long way toward engaging the reader.

Plot takes precedence over characters, though. Jared's reaction is a little over the top, as is Mopsy's. I had trouble believing that Mopsy was in sixth grade; she seemed much younger than that. The refugees are compelling, particularly Mattu and Alake, while the Finch parents, painted with a broader brush, are somewhat less believeable.

Cooney fans will be lined up three deep for this title, and it will satisfy their expectations of the books Cooney writes. It is not an ideal title to introduce readers, but it will appeal to those already familiar with her work.

review by
Donna Scanlon

30 August 2008

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