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The Heaven Shop is an eye-opening novel surrounding the case of a young girl having to face the consequences of global issues. In the events of this book, the main character, 13 year old Binti, lives a good life with her family in Blantyre, Malawi. All is well, she thinks, until it isn’t; her father passes away, and Binti and her siblings are tossed from one place to another against their will searching for a permanent place of residence. Along her journey, Binti must learn and realize that sometimes life will not go her way.
In this essay, I will be touching on topics about this novel surrounding the global issue in the story, a character analysis, and details I think the author, Deborah Ellis, placed in the novel for a purpose deeper than what it may seem.
In The Heaven Shop, healthcare is the constantly occurring global issue in the novel. Most specifically, a prevelent problem in Binti’s world is AIDS/HIV.
“I don’t want any of them in my house,” another aunt said. When Binti’s father shows signs of illness, he is taken to the public hospital and whilst being tested for AIDS, he is diagnosed with pneumonia. He later passes away. Amidst the funeral it is announced that he died of AIDS. The disease is dangerous and attacks a cell in your immune system, causing you to become more prone to other infections. In the novel, it is common to find people infected with the virus.
It is often referred to in the book that people are not very well informed about the disease. ‘”I don’t want any of them in my house,” another aunt said. “How do we know they don’t have AIDS? I don’t want them infecting my children. We could drink out of the same cup, and all get sick.”‘ (The Heaven Shop, pg. 73, Chapter 8). Unlike what the aunt in that quote from the novel said, AIDS is not transferrable through saliva or touch. It is clear they do not know enough about it to understand it fully. There is no cure for HIV/AIDS, but treatment is available in countries that can afford it. In Blantyre, Malawi, where the book takes place, it does not seem like there is treatment for everyone. Many people die from it that could be prevented if the care was given to them. This affects Binti in a great amount; after her father passed, she and her siblings were left alone with their rude and unfair relatives who treated them like slaves. This global issue of healthcare is something that should change, for if it did, countless families would be blessed with spending more years with their loved ones.
Not everything in a novel should be focused on the main character and the main character only. Background characters could have some attention as well; one less important character that has caught my attention is a 13 year old girl named Memory. She lives with Gogo, Binti’s grandmother, with many other children. Upon looking at her from the surface, she is a normal girl just like Binti, however, deep inside she carries the burden of a harrowing backstory. Though she is only 13, Memory has a child. She used to live with her uncle, and he had one of his friends over. This friend of his had HIV in his blood. Assuming he would be cured if he transferred it to someone else, he gave this virus to Memory, as well as a child she didn’t ask for. Since then, Memory has come to live with Gogo, who welcomed her with open arms. Memory is a strong girl; not everyone could bear with the trauma that happened to her. She shows courage when she raises and loves her child like any good mother would, even though her daughter is a constant reminder of happened not too long ago. She has gone through so much; life with Gogo is peaceful, but not easy. They do not have enough money to support all the children, so they must make do with what they have. Even though Memory has the responsibility of her own child, she also must take care of a dozen other orphans alongside Gogo. This shows her wise nature. Motherhood has been thrown at her with only thirteen years of life. Being wise does not come with age; it comes with experience, and Memory has shown exactly that.
Anyone can read a book; but only a portion can dig deep into the words and read between the lines. Throughout The Heaven Shop, I’ve tried to apply wisdom and knowledge to the words on the pages to attempt to understand them to a deeper meaning, and possibly why the author put those events in the novel. Though my skill at doing this is not yet superior, it is somewhat satisfactory. One part in the very first half of the novel, I think shows very much of Binti’s personality. ‘Binti made sure the script she carried faced out-ward, so people who could read would be able to read the title, and see that she was important.’ (The Heaven Shop, pg. 16-17, Chapter 2). This piece from the book, though it is only a sentence, portrays a major part in Binti’s personality. Binti is confident and proud. These are good traits; but even that has its limits. Binti can be self-centered, and rather than simply stating that, Deborah Ellis has mixed it with the plot seamlessly. Another part of the novel that caught my eye was something that happens much later in the storyline. ‘”Don’t be so touchy,” Binti said. She nodded toward the baby that was strapped, as always, to Memory’s back. “When does he go back to his mother?” Memory slammed the stick so hard into the maize it bounced right out again and sent the maize spilling into the dirt. “The baby is a she! You didn’t even know that. You don’t even know her name.” She left Binti to take care of the mess.’ (The Heaven Shop, pg. 135, Chaptere 15). I assume this section was meant to show that Binti, even though at this time she had gone through quite a bit, is still a childish na?ve 13-year-old girl. She may act like she knows everything and that her opinions are always right, but that isn’t how the world works. I think at this moment Binti starts to realize there are many ways life could take you; not only what Binti has seen.
In conclusion, The Heaven Shop is an amazing book that gives such a different outlook on life. From the main global issue, improper healthcare with HIV/AIDS and how it affects Binti by taking family members away too early, to the character analysis of Memory; a wise, strong girl with an intense backstory. And finally, little key notes I think the author of The Heaven Shop placed in the novel for a certain purpose; hinting at Binti’s personality, and showing that Binti learned valuable lessons from different people. These points have been hidden within words on a page, left for readers to discover.
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