Library:ADCLP/A Girl Named Disaster

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A Girl Named Disaster / Nancy Farmer


Nhamo, whose name means disaster in Shona, is an eleven-year-old girl living in Mozambique. Her father abandoned her as a baby and a leopard killed her mother when she was a very young child. Nhamo is greatly loved by her grandmother, but resented by some of her other relatives. When many people in her village die of cholera, she is blamed for being the target of a ngozi, an avenging spirit. To appease the spirit, she is arranged to marry a cruel man who already has three wives.Her grandmother is firmly against the marriage and helps Nhamo to run away to Zimbabwe. Nhamo sets off in a leaky boat and manages to survive starvation and drowning. She tells different African folktales throughout the novel that serve to comfort he, weaving a mysticism into the story in the process. She has numerous conversations with African spirits.

I began to wonder if these conversations took place in Nhamo’s imagination or in the external world. At one point, she is possessed by a spirit and, at other times, it seems that she has gone mad.At approximately 300 pages, I found this to be a very long novel. Some Shona vocabulary is used, with a glossary included at the back, but the language is otherwise accessible to a good reader in an upper intermediate grade in elementary school. I would recommend it to children and teens that enjoy survival stories, fantasy, and adventure. Although the many descriptive passages help to paint vivid images of the story, children should be encouraged to skim through these if they start to tire of the novel. Otherwise, some children may give up before finishing the book.

Eventually, the novel does end happily with Nhamo finding a place for herself in her father’s family.The book also contains a short history of Mozambique, Zimbabwe, and the groups of people who live there, as well as information about Shona beliefs, and a bibliography.

Reading Levels

Ages 12 - 15 / Grades 7 - 10

Publication History

  • New York : Orchard Books, 1996. 309 p., map ; 23 cm. ISBN 0531088898 (lib. bdg.) 0531095398
  • New York : Puffin Books, 1998. . ISBN 0140386351 (pbk.)