Discriminatory harrassment is one of the very real, very big faults that our society faces on a regular basis today. However, discriminatory violence and negativity are not only in the hands of the United States in particular but are an issue all across the world. Within the young adult novel, In Search of Happiness by Sonwabiso Ngcai, the life of a young girl named Nanase, also known as Nana, is followed as she embarks on some of the most difficult yet rewarding journeys of her young life. After living away from her closest family, Nana moves from Mpozia to the city of Masiphumelele in hopes of getting more opportunity for her future. Along this journey, Nana quickly realizes that all people are in fact not created or viewed as equals in South Africa. A very big message for young readers that is tackled face first in this well-written novel.
Nana moves in next to two young neighbors, neither are of South African descent, and as a result, they are viewed in a very negative light by the individuals of the community. When she first reaches her new home, Nana is able to see the hatred and discrimination unfold in front of her eyes, involving a person that she just met. Only shortly after she introduced herself to the young Zimbabwean neighbor boy named Chino, she hears a lot of commotion outside of her new home. The neighbor boy Chino is taken away aggressively by the police officers of Cape Town. As young Chino is detained by the police officers, young Nana begins to openly question why they are being treated so much differently by the people in Cape Town just because they are not native to South Africa. She reflects upon the situation expressing, “My thoughts travel to the neighbours from Zimbabwe, especially Chino, the kind one. How can the other, South African, neighbours be so openly unkind? And the police, showing no mercy?” (Ngcai, Chapter 6 Ndikwicala likaChino). This very open, very upfront representation of discrimination based on country of origin I find to be a very difficult, yet powerful portion of this novel. Having the very descriptive text regarding open discrimination of individuals right in front of members of the community allows young adults to see that this is a very real issue in the society they live in. I find this to be a very strong aspect of the novel that can pull the reader in and allows the novel to become much more personal in context by addressing real life issues head-on without romanticizing the situations at hand. But instead asks the young people to consider their actions and consider why discrimination towards particular groups exists in society.
However, this is not to say that ethnic discrimination is the only form of discrimination that is addressed within the novel, that would be far too simple. Another very important societal discrimination issue is outlined later in the novel. After experiencing her first days of school, which turned out to be much different than she had expected, Nana’s life begins to quickly change forever. She meets the second member of the Zimbabwean neighbor duo; her name is Agnes. This is when the powerful messages within this novel go from good, to great in a seemingly quick manner. Although many people in the community disapprove of Chino and Agnes because they are not native South Africans, Nana’s compassionate and open heart sees them for so much more than just a foreign threat, especially when it comes to Agnes. It is with a little bit of time, and a lot of self-evaluation that Nana realizes that she loves Agnes, and another big social issue is opened up within the novel. In the beginning of the book, it was already made fairly obvious to the reader that Nana wasn’t just like all of the other little girls. She spent a lot of time hanging out with boys, and much preferred to be friends with the boys in her home of Mpozia. But it is when love comes into the picture that people’s feelings towards Nana begin to shift, solely because of who she loves. The struggles and hardships that the LGBTQ community face on an everyday basis, not only by members of society, but also by members of their family are clearly outlined in the remainder of the novel. A point that I find to be very difficult to portray and express successfully, but extremely well done in this case. When young Nana tells her family and members of the community how she feels about Agnes, her feelings are viewed as wrong, and upsetting. This is a very emotional depiction of what happens to individuals when they do not line up with societal norms. This book supports and validates the feelings associated with the homosexual relationship, validating that having feelings outside of the social expectation is perfectly okay, even if it comes with challenges. Nana leaves the readers with a very powerful statement regarding her love of Agnes despite the social dismay that it may cause. “Yes, our love may be hidden, but it is strong. It can still bring happiness” (Ngcai, Chapter 20 Kunye).
Overall, this novel did an excellent job attacking the social injustices of discrimination within South African communities in a very clear, descriptive, and public way. In order to foster the thought and change that young minds can bring to the world, they must be informed of the issues at hand. With this novel, although at some points it is emotional and challenging to read and accept, it is very real and it inspires a change that I personally have never experienced in a novel I have read before. It inspires the reader to love everyone for who they are, not where they come from or who they love. An emotionally captivating novel that really makes you consider the society that you are creating.
Ngcowa, Sonwabiso. In Search of Happiness.. [VitalSource]. Cover2Cover Books. 2014.
**This book was purchased as an E-Book on VitalSource.com of which did not include page numbers, but only had the novel in a chapter-by-chapter format. That is why you will see the chapter number and title in the quote citations as opposed to the page number**