Tamsin Janu. Figgy and the President (Figgy #2). Scholastic, May 2016, 181pp., $15.99 (pbk.), ISBN 9781742991559
Eleven-year-old Figgy lives with her grandmother in a village in Ghana. As well as battling poverty, Figgy has to contend with her unusual name and a permanently damaged eye. On the up side, she has loyal friends, loving role models, and a bold sense of adventure.
This is the second book in the Figgy series. The first, Figgy in the World, was a joint winner in the 2015 New South Wales Premier’s Literary Awards children’s book category. The title of the sequel is drawn from a discussion about career choices that permeates the book. Figgy’s friend, Nana, aspires to be the president of Ghana, whereas Figgy is unclear about her future. Other storylines concern the reappearance (after an absence of more than a decade) of Figgy’s now-pregnant mother; Figgy’s minor role in a movie; the rescue of Nana (who is re-taken by his abusive father and then sold to a local fisherman); and the birth of Figgy’s brother.
In 2009, author Tamsin Janu spent some months in Ghana – a country with a population roughly the same as Australia’s. Through the eyes of her first person protagonist, Janu effectively evokes the economic and cultural landscape of this West African country. Figgy’s life is one where children play next to rubbish heaps because, despite the smell, the ground is flat enough for soccer, and where they amuse themselves with drawing games in the dirt. Without a hint of bitterness, Figgy observes that the movie director has ‘a rich house with running water and electricity’.
Amidst the competing storylines and the backdrop of Ghanaian life, Janu subtly introduces ethical and moral issues. Figgy wrestles with questions such as whether it is acceptable to ‘buy and sell people, like they [are]a bag of rice’, and whether stealing food when you are starving makes you ‘a bad person’.
Figgy is a compelling narrator. Her naive, wide-eyed curiosity and her attempts to make sense of her world (in which adult actions can be quite perplexing) should resonate in the lives of other children – even those from very different environments half way around the planet.
For ages 8+
Reviewed by Tessa Wooldridge