van Dijk, Lutz
Crossing the Line
Pietermaritzburg, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa: Shuter & Shooter, 2006. 148 p. ISBN 0-79602-954-7. Ages 12 and up.
Languages: English, Afrikaans, isiXhosa
Publisher: Shuter & Shooter
The main themes of this youth novel are the aspirations of young people in South Africa, the stigma of HIV/AIDS, and national soccer. In a World Cup year, you can’t be much more topical than that! (Even though South Africa did not qualify for 2006, the country is hosting the World Cup in 2010.) The central character is Themba who, in spite of AIDS, makes his way from rural poverty to being a member of the South African national soccer team (known as Bafana Bafana).
Although the ‘hook’ for a young reader is the overwhelmingly popular game – especially in Africa – of soccer, this book is really about survival in the face of desperation and the spread of AIDS through sexual activity. It is explicit in its detail which gives the storytelling a moving impact. Many of the story details are only too familiar: a missing father, an unpleasant pseudo-uncle who moves in with the family, unemployment and poverty, mother going to work as a domestic in Cape Town, Themba and his sister going in search of her and finding her fatally sick. AIDS is hinted at but can never be spoken of openly. So it takes great personal courage for Themba, who has become a soccer star, to make public admission that he has AIDS. Though the graphic description of disease and lack of proper medication is depressing, the overall message is ‘Believe in yourself’ – reject apathy and fight for your future. Democracy does not necessarily bring job opportunities and happiness in Africa. The happy endings included here may be wishful thinking for some, but it is right that youth literature should carry a strong message of hope. This book is realistic and relevant. An Afterword explains more about AIDS, and a Glossary covers many of the technical terms and African details used.