In Africa, Congolese refugee Sylvie fights to keep her family together after her father’s death, her mother’s descent into despair, and her brother’s attraction to the militias that rule the refugee camp. All are fighting to control the coltan market, and Sylvie fears that if she can’t find a way to get her family out of the country, the deadly battles will consume them.
In Asia, farm-girl Laiping moves to the big city to take a job in a cell-phone factory. At first it seems a dream come true, until the monotonous labor, arbitrary system of reward and punishment, and crackdowns on worker protests reveal the true nature of the system. With her father ailing and her options dwindling, can Laiping find a way to preserve her rights and her pride?
In North America, Vancouver teenager Fiona snaps a suggestive selfie for her boyfriend, only to discover that once the image enters cyberspace, there’s no controlling who has access to it. Fiona’s struggle to regain control of her reputation and her life will lead her in surprising directions, and force her to confront the problems faced by teenage girls beyond her relatively privileged world.
BLUE GOLD is, self-evidently, an “issue” book, one that explores the connections between the consumer lifestyle of developed nations and the poverty, violence, and abuse that exist elsewhere in the world. But though the book can be overly obvious at times, it’s never heavy-handed; the three girls’ lives emerge in vivid detail, drawing the reader into their flesh-and-blood stories. And these stories are rendered with unsparing realism; Sylvie’s rape by militia members, Laiping’s brutal treatment at the hands of her employers, and Fiona’s suffering from a single impulsive act are all handled straightforwardly and with no sugar-coating or artificial uplift. Mere survival is a triumph for these three young women, and the book never suggests that there’s an easy answer to the problems they, their sisters, or their societies face.
I was very impressed by this book, so much so I plan to read Stewart’s other novel for young adults, THE LYNCHING OF LOUIE SAM, which is based on a real-life incident involving the lynching of a Native American teen. If you like realistic stories that address issues beyond the sometimes claustrophobic world of YA, I highly recommend BLUE GOLD. And I also recommend you check out the website The Pirate Tree, a site covering social justice literature for young people, where I first learned of Stewart’s book.