Oct 27, 2014

Review by Tanya: Drumbeats by Julia Ibbotson

Drumbeats is the first novel in a trilogy and follows 18 year old English student Jess through her gap year in West Africa. It's a rite of passage novel set in the mid-1960s when Jess flees her stifling home background for freedom to become a volunteer teacher and nurse in the Ghanaian bush. Apprehensively, she leaves her first real romantic love behind in the UK, but will she be able to sustain the bond while she is away? With the idealism of youth, she hopes to find out who she really is, and do some good in the world, but little does she realise what, in reality, she will find that year: joys, horrors, tragedy. She must find her way on her own and learn what fate has in store for her, as she becomes embroiled in the poverty and turmoil of a small war-torn African nation under a controversial dictatorship. Jess must face the dangers of both civil war and unexpected romance. Can she escape her past or will it always haunt her?

Firstly thank you Julia Ibbotson for sending me a lovely signed birthday copy of this book courtesy of Suzanne it was a lovely surprise.
The book is set in 1965 and is about a Quaker girl called Jess that travels to Ghana, in a university gap year to hopefully help with teaching or first aid in under privileged areas. She travels against her parents’ wishes although they have given her permission. Her home life is very constrained and she is constantly being reminded to live the Quaker way of life. She also leaves behind her recent boyfriend Simon, a boy from a decent Quaker family.
I am really going to struggle to describe this book without giving away the details because in my opinion it contains such strong messages and gripping story. The title comes from the drumbeat music that Jess often hears being played by members of the surrounding villages to where she finds herself based. She often feels like they are trying to convey a message. When she gets to Africa Jess finds her partnered and living with a girl called Sandra. Along with Betty, her Quaker mentor, Glenda and Chrissie she finds herself teaching in a Methodist Secondary School for quite privileged children. Betty, Glenda and Chrissie are permanent teaching staff and are used to the completely different lifestyle that the area entails. There are rats in the properties along with intermittent electricity and running water. However this is far more adequate than some of the surrounding tribal villages have. Jess discovers during her visits as a Sunday school teacher that lot of the tribal children suffer from malaria due to the fact that they don’t have the basics of a mosquito net around their bed or access to medical help. Jessy tries to help as much as she can with their problems and she develops a strong bond with a lot of the tribal villages. Whilst there she meets an American man called Jim and they become good friends and the story often revolves around their adventures together and time spent together as friends. She also embarks on an adventure over the Christmas period to Timbuktu along with Sandra, Chrissie and Glenda.
The story is told through the eyes of Jess and the thoughts or letters that she often writes home to Simon. It’s a story that at first I thought oh no I am going to struggle with this as I really don’t understand the Quaker way of life. Believe me you do not as anything you need to understand is told to you. I really enjoyed this book and cannot rave about it enough. As I said it would not be a book I would normally go out and buy but it is so capturing especially as covers difficult times in a war torn Africa. Also you learn so much about her past that you just want to congratulate her for being so strong and hopefully coming through the other side. The book leaves you wanting more and I cannot wait till the next book of the trilogy. Well done Julia Ibbotson It is not very often a book has me so enthralled and recommending to everyone I meet, keep it coming.

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