When the Ground Is Hard

by Malla Nunn

Published by Putnam, 2019
257 pages
ISBN: 978-0-525-51557-9

When the Ground Is Hard
When the Ground Is Hard by Malla Nunn

Age 14 and older

In 1965, 16-year-old Adele attends a boarding school for mixed-race students in the British protectorate of Swaziland. Her white father lives with his white wife and children, but calls and visits and pays for Adele’s schooling. Her mother, like Adele herself, is biracial (Black/white). At Adele’s school class matters most; students whose parents are able to pay tuition enjoy better treatment from staff and teachers, and are the most popular. When Adele is booted from her friend group after a new, wealthy student arrives, she is forced to room with Lottie, who is part Zulu and very poor. Adele despises Lottie’s poor manners, outspokenness, and penchant for fighting anyone who snubs her. But Adele grows to appreciate Lottie’s fearlessness. She also admires Lottie’s friendship with Darnell, who has a developmental disability, and whose disappearance becomes increasingly more central as the plot progresses. So, too, does Adele’s desire to learn more about her mother’s decision to leave the nearby village she grew up in. Although the complexities of this story are embedded in a specific time and place, the social dynamics are universal, as is Adele’s curiosity about her family’s past, and longing for reassurance she is loved. At times shocking in its depictions of racism and ableism, Adele’s story is compelling, personal, and ultimately empowering. ©2019 Cooperative Children’s Book Center