by Ted Oswald
From back cover
Ten-year-old orphan Libète has been hardened by the daily struggle to survive in Cité Soleil, Haiti's most infamous slum. But when she and her best friend, Jak, discover a young mother and her baby brutally murdered in a nearby marsh, it's unlike anything she's encountered before. Though initially shocked, the adults of Cité Soleil move on quickly from the event; after all, death is commonplace in this community. Undaunted, Libète takes action with Jak in tow, plunging herself into a dangerous, far-reaching plot that will change her irrevocably and threaten everything she holds dear.
Because We Are is a profound and mesmerizing tale of a young girl's search for justice in an unjust world, set against the vivid and tumultuous backdrop of modern-day Haiti.
I met Ted Oswald this summer at a volunteer orientation, and when he said he enjoyed writing fiction, I couldn't help but ask if he'd published anything, despite my introverted inclination not to. The next morning he handed me a signed copy of Because We Are, as a gift. He said it was a murder mystery, and I have to admit, I was skeptical. I don't read murder mysteries.
But Ted Oswald has an amazing talent for writing, and Because We Are is a beautifully haunting work of art. I found myself walking the streets of Haiti, a place I've never been, watching the life of Libete unfold. I could see the landscape, the homes, the people, more vividly than in many books I've read. This book drew me in, and then broke my heart. It's right up there with Silence in difficulty to get through--I actually put it down for a few days in favor of a light fantasy novel, but I couldn't leave it on the table for long.
Libete is a colorful, strong young girl who endures far more than any person should witness in a lifetime, and she pulls her brilliant friend Jak into her meddling adventures. It is easy to love these children, but difficult to journey alongside them.
When I put this book down, I had half a mind not to pick it up again. It was just too hard to get through. But although Libete isn't real, the Haiti she lives in is very much so, and I felt a strong need and perhaps even responsibility to finish this book. There was no pity, no place for it, only a strong sense of what it is to be human and to live on this earth.