By: Janice Warman
Publication Date: May 2016
Reviewed by: Ellen Feld
Review Date: June 15, 2016
A world unknown to many youth today is brought back to life by author Janice Warman in the mesmerizing young adult novel The World Beneath.
It is 1976 in South Africa and apartheid is in full force. For young Joshua it is a scary time. He is living with his mother, Beauty, in white-dominated Cape Town. Beauty is a maid working for a wealthy white couple in their beautiful home. Out of necessity, she has left her other children behind in "Ciskei" (the designated areas for black people in South Africa at the time). Beauty managed to convince her employer's wife, Mrs. Malherbe, to allow Joshua to stay in the maid's quarters with her. Mrs. Malherbe agreed, but with the requirement that he stay out of the way, and pretty much hidden from her husband. If Mr. Malherbe should learn that Joshua is living at the estate, things might get ugly. This is the environment that Joshua is forced to grow up in - hiding in the cabinet with the family's dog, and running to his mother's room whenever he hears Mr. Malherbe's big Mercedes pull into the driveway.
Joshua is too young to understand what apartheid is, he simply accepts that this is the way things are. But when he rescues Tsumalo, a young, injured man running from the police, Joshua slowly comes to realize what is happening all around him. While the Malherbes' marriage slowly dissolves, the couple's son, Robert, comes home to visit his mother. Joshua soon learns that this rich white man is sympathetic to the plight of blacks and while Joshua doesn't understand exactly what is going on, he does know that he doesn't have to hide when Robert is home. Soon, Beauty and Joshua's relatively safe living circumstances are threatened because the Malherbes' household is in turmoil. But the more frightening thing is that the country is being drawn into more and more violence. As events in South Africa escalate, Joshua's life changes and he is forced to grow up quickly.
The World Beneath is the story of apartheid as seen through the eyes of a young boy. Author Janice Warman has done an excellent job of bringing this period of South African history to today's youth without being preachy. The story is never dull, and it is easy to feel for Joshua as he innocently discovers the world around him. As he grows, Joshua must make some hard decisions, which will determine what kind of person he will be. The World Beneath is a story that all young people should read!
Quill says: An excellent story that brings the unspeakable horrors of apartheid to life in an unforgettable way for young readers.