Natalie C. Anderson’s day job may be just as interesting as her book. She is an American writer and international development professional who currently lives in Geneva, Switzerland. For the past decade, she has worked with NGOs and sits on a panel formed by the UN for refugee relief in Africa. She wrote her debut novel, City of Saints and Thieves, after being selected by the Associates of the Boston Public Library to be their Children’s Writer in Residence, and wrote the YA crime-thriller of the decade while she was still the writer in residence.
City of Saints and Thieves manages to combine questions of gender politics, wealth disparity, and geopolitical conflict into a coherent plotline, a feat seldom accomplished by major news outlets. The story follows the narrator, Tiny Girl, a refugee from the Congo, as she lives life as a gang member on the streets of Sangui City. Her life’s work is to ruin a rich man from the closed off, expensive part of the city and solve the murder of her mother. As the book goes on, readers learn why Tiny Girl is so intent on destroying this business man and watch as she uncovers evidence that could create international intrigue. The plot is complex enough to stay interesting, and decently fast paced.
The informal tone of the book made it feel wonderfully familiar, even though it’s set a continent away from my hometown. Tiny Girl is relatable, even when living on the streets. Throughout the book, Tiny Girl makes mistakes. Things constantly go wrong both in and out of her control, lending the story a sense of realism. The setting, a large city in modern Africa, also made the book more interesting because of its current complex geopolitical context surrounding wars and corruption in the area. City of Saints and Thieves is far from the stereotypical suburban YA novel, in its examination of world humanitarian struggles. I never would have thought that wars over gold mines in the Congo would make reasonable material for a YA book, but City of Saints and Thieves manages to turn the complexities of the world into an informative, interesting story.