BookBrowse Reviews Find Me Unafraid by Kennedy Odede, Jessica Posner

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Find Me Unafraid

Love, Loss, and Hope in an African Slum

by Kennedy Odede, Jessica Posner

Find Me Unafraid by Kennedy Odede, Jessica Posner X
Find Me Unafraid by Kennedy Odede, Jessica Posner
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  • First Published:
    Oct 2015, 352 pages
    Paperback:
    Jul 2016, 272 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Rory L. Aronsky
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A love story about a fight against poverty and hopelessness.

With staggering emotional weight and keen awareness of love and humanity even in the darkest places, Find Me Unafraid is a book that tears you apart and puts you back together – over and over again.

First, Kennedy Odede's horrific young life in the sprawling Kibera slum in Nairobi, the capital of Kenya in Africa breaks you apart. Extreme poverty, near-starvation, hopelessness, murdered friends, and being considered an unwanted child by his village elders are bad enough, but add to that a viciously abusive father who, Kennedy finds out later, isn't his real father, and you've got to wonder how Odede doesn't entirely crumble. But he doesn't, and instead, he holds onto a tiny spark of hope, which becomes a steady flame later on. Odede watches his beleaguered yet unbowed mother, Ajey, create a lending circle, convincing women of Kibera to pool their money together to give to a different person each week, paying it forward so that they can establish businesses and empower themselves; free themselves from their husbands, who always take control of whatever money they can get.

Then Find Me Unafraid puts you back together as you follow Jessica Posner's determined journey of self-discovery. While at Wesleyan University in Connecticut, she decides to go to Nairobi. Two friends from her Denver hometown encourage her to contact Kennedy Odede, who heads an organization in Kibera called Shining Hope for Communities (SHOFCO), which has a theater component. It's perfect for Posner, who's majoring in Theater and African American Studies. Upon arrival, Posner experiences major culture shock when she sees things like the walls of Kennedy's ten foot-by-six foot house, which "are made of corrugated metal and cardboard milk boxes," and that a sheet hangs down the middle of the living space, separating the bedroom, the living room, and the kitchen. She contends with tasks like how to bathe (which is paralleled nicely later when Odede is amazed at his first shower after arriving in New York City with Posner.) But Posner adjusts, taking part in a theater project designed to create a forum for the Kiberan community to explore their lives, and to eventually show the world their struggles to survive.

After this, the story gently dashes you to pieces again as you learn about Odede and Posner's astonishing work at SHOFCO, helping to provide better lives and opportunities for the people of Kibera. Election-driven violence in Kenya motivates Posner's prodigious letter writing to admissions deans at various universities to bring Odede to the United States. From Dar es Salaam in Tanzania, after escaping the violence in Kenya, Odede fills out applications and writes essays, and soon he's accepted at Wesleyan University. He discovers a markedly different way of life – his own culture shock – and is surprised at experiences like not having to run to be first in line at the dining hall for fear that the food might run out. While at Wesleyan, Odede decides to start the Kibera School for Girls, whose mission is to educate and empower girls. Odede and Posner win many grants, oversee construction of the school, and interview prospective students in Kibera – and all the while they have passionate, positive, and measured attitudes that deeply infuse Find Me Unafraid's pages with hope and inspiration.

It takes enormous courage to tell the story of one's own life, and, in Kennedy Odede's case, it takes a strong heart to relive that life on paper: to remember the harsh times, the hopeless days, the despairing nights. Jessica Posner has a strong heart too, as she helps bring Kibera to the wider world. Together, they are a powerful force for good and, ultimately, they put the reader back together with the promise that there is still more good to come.

Reviewed by Rory L. Aronsky

This review was originally published in The BookBrowse Review in November 2015, and has been updated for the August 2016 edition. Click here to go to this issue.

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Beyond the Book:
  Kibera

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