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Elder Care

by Jane Kurtz
Greenwillow, 2001
Review by Kimberly Brosan on Jun 17th 2002

Jakarta Missing

Dakar and her older sister Jakarta have always been best friends. When their parents decide to move to North Dakota, to her mother’s childhood home, Jakarta refuses to come with them. She decides to stay in Kenya where her school and her friends are. Dakar thought she would change her mind, but here she is in North Dakota with her mother and father—but Jakarta lives thousands of miles away in a country where it is not always safe. 

To make matters worse, Dakar hates her new surroundings. It is strange in North Dakota—she must get used to telephones and banisters and leaves falling from trees and SNOW! She’s not what her classmates expected of someone from Africa—she’s not black, they want her to speak different languages to them—they treat her as an oddity. If it weren’t for her friend Melanie, Dakar would probably be even more miserable than she already is. Melanie and Dakar share secrets and stories. Melanie tries to help Dakar adjust to her new surroundings and Dakar shares stories of the places she’s lived and the things she’s seen. Melanie thinks her new friend’s stories are wonderful and she can’t wait to meet the mysterious sister, Jakarta, who Dakar so obviously idolizes. 

Dakar is a worrier. There is an explosion in Kenya and her family hasn’t been able to reach the school or talk to her sister. Dakar doesn’t know what to do, and she wishes that her parents were more reassuring than they seem to be lately. To distract herself, Dakar makes lists—lists of what she misses, mysterious stories she remembers, lists that attempt to put some order in the jumble of her life. Dakar has panic attacks, which wake her from sleep because she stops breathing. They happened when she and Jakarta were in boarding school in Kenya too, but no one from the school told her parents. Her sister sang to her while she calmed down and fell back to sleep. 

When Jakarta is finally located and brought against her will to live in North Dakota, her young sister is convinced that she won’t have to worry any longer. When Jakarta arrives though, she is angry and belligerent. In an attempt to placate Jakarta, Dakar shuns the one person who made her feel safe in this new world: her friend Melanie. Having her sister back with the family does nothing to help Dakar feel more comfortable, and there seems to be something else brewing at home. Neither her mother nor her father seem to be very happy in the new home. In fact, Mom ends up going to take care of her Aunt Lily—in a house without a telephone. When there’s a medical emergency, her father heads for Guatemala—another place without a telephone, leaving the two girls alone to take care of themselves. 

After joining the school’s basketball team where Jakarta is the star player, she begins to settle in and feel a little better about their new surroundings, but Dakar is still worried. She’s worried about her mother. She’s worried about her father. She’s worried that they won’t know how to operate the heat in the house when it snows. She’s worried that her parents won’t ever come back. With the help of Pharo, Jakarta’s boyfriend and Melanie’s mother, the girls manage to make it through.  

When her mother returns with Aunt Lily and her father returns with an ache to go back to Africa, the tension in the house builds and builds. Her father doesn’t like the cold gray days but her mother longs to put down roots somewhere for a little while. The girls may have to face another split of the family. How will they decide where they want to live and whom they want to live with? These are difficult choices—especially for a worrywart like Dakar.


© 2002 Kimberly Brosan


Kimberly Brosan is a high school teacher and librarian. She has worked in high school and primary school libraries in Pennsylvania and South Carolina for the past 10 years. Kim’s primary interests are in young adult literature and information literacy. She says that her favorite part of her job is connecting people with the books and information they need and teaching them how to locate and evaluate things for themselves.