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Set in the impoverished village of Cedarville, South Africa, following the dismantling of apartheid in 1994, this poignant and humorous novel for middle-grade readers weaves together fiction and nonfiction.  

Twelve-year-old Boipelo Seku lives with his father and his almost-blind grandmother in a government-built house that’s like almost every other home in their village. Boi, as he is called by his family and friends, might be poor materially, but he is rich in community and friendships.   

When Boi finds an old magazine with an article titled “Man Trades Paperclip for a House,” he learns about Kyle MacDonald, a (real-life) Canadian man who made trade after trade, always exchanging something of lesser value for something of greater value, and finally received a house. Boi’s dream is born! He will do the same thing as Kyle MacDonald did so his family can live in a beautiful, sturdy house!  

When Boi tells his best friend Potso about his goal, Potso is skeptical, but willing to go along with the excitement. Boi and Potso go down to the river, and Boi forms a miniature statue of a cow from the clay in the riverbed. When he trades it with the owner of the Cedarville Shop for a bottle of Coke, Boi is elated. But what can he trade for the Coke?  

As Boi makes decision after decision and trade after trade, he is confronted by his own pride and selfishness, by people who want to take advantage of him, by others who tell his story untruthfully, and by the realization that the poverty of his circumstances doesn’t allow him the same opportunities as his hero in the Canadian context. When his friendships become strained and his trading goes awry, Boi begins to question his entire endeavor: “I realized that I’d stopped looking at houses—proper brick houses with chimneys, gardens, and space—in the hope that one day I’d live in one. … Everyone else I knew lived in tiny, badly built houses with thin walls, broken windows, and small yards. Why should my life be any different?”  

Boi wavers between despair and hope, but he finally gains a new perspective on his community and on himself when his trading results in him “accidentally” organizing a project that will benefit his village and the surrounding areas.  

Laugh-out-loud moments; a sweet, budding romance; delightful insights into friendship; details about African culture; and age-sensitive social commentary on the aftereffects of apartheid make this novel an enjoyable and enriching reading experience. (Catalyst Press)


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