10 to Try Mystery Challenge: Debut

In this second month of challenging myself to read only mysteries in completing 10 to Try, I chose a bestselling young adult (YA) debut that was recently optioned by Universal Pictures:

City of Saints & Thieves

Christina "Tiny Girl" lives by a set of rules:

  1. I don't exist.
  2. Trust no one.
  3. Thieves don't have friends.
  4. Choose your target carefully.
  5. You have to have a plan.

Sticking with the Goonda gang in Kenya's Sangui City ever since her mother's murder, Tiny Girl's only motivation is revenge against the man who did it. The only problem is that once Tiny Girl sets her plan in motion, a 1% portion of doubt creeps in that could throw everything off track and result in receiving a pair of cinderblock shoes from the Goondas. But now Tiny Girl has to be 100% sure that she has the right man before she gives him the bullet he deserves, and she'll need help to get the proof.

This debut YA mystery surprised me. At first I experienced my typical reaction to the start of a mystery: boredom with the setup and impatience to learn the truth! But the characters in this novel kept me reading. Tiny Girl is a refugee from the Congo, and there is so much she doesn't know about why her mother fled with her to Kenya. Tiny Girl's friend Boyboy, her go-to hacker, proudly flaunts his lavender-painted fingernails and intelligence while he does his best to help her. And Michael, the son of the murderer, is desperate to prove to Tina that his father didn't do it.

I also felt drawn into the setting. While Sangui City is fictional, author Natalie Anderson draws on her experience living and working in Africa to create an immersive environment and a picture of an African city and rural town that blends the characteristics of real places. I could almost feel my bare feet on the muddy ground after a sudden downpour, and taste the fried matoke (cooking/green banana).

If you're looking for a YA debut to read for 10 to Try, check out the finalists and winners of the Morris Award. Debut authors also get lots of attention on blogs like YA and Wine. Or for adult-level reading, explore the long list of titles honored by the PEN/Hemingway Award for Debut Fiction.

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