Hope Runs: An American Tourist, a Kenyan Boy, a Journey of Redemption
It’s hard for me to find a first sentence to this review. I liked HOPE RUNS very much. A book written by two authors can be tricky. But Sammy and Claire have pulled it off, each writing chapters in his or her distinct voice. Right up front, we’re drawn in to Sammy’s Kenyan childhood. “After my father’s death, things start to go downhill for our family” --- his mother and her three children. Sammy doesn’t understand the dynamics (so neither does the reader). But the chapter ends with distress for the 10-year-old boy, abandoned: “She never shows up. Not once does my mother ever again appear.”
In chapter two, we meet Claire --- a recent college graduate with an anthropological interest in international volunteer programs --- setting out on an experimental year abroad in Mexico. Next, she goes on a trip to South Africa with college friend Lara, who plays a critical role in the book. And then comes a year of world-round travels. “Kenya is our nineteenth country, and our last,” Claire writes. She and Lara spend a night in a Kenyan guesthouse connected to a Presbyterian orphanage that has taken in Samuel.
"A book written by two authors can be tricky. But Sammy and Claire have pulled it off, each writing chapters in his or her distinct voice."
Inexplicably (God-ordained?), Claire senses a calling to the children in the Imani Children’s Home. Standing in front of an old scratched mirror, she prays, “If you have put this place in my road to change me…please open my eyes so I can see.” She feels compelled to return. She and Lara make plans to come to Imani to start a sports program, preparing the older kids to run a marathon. They start a charitable organization called Hope Runs. Of all the children they serve, Sammy stands out. They eventually work through the logistical maze of bringing him to a boarding school in Maine, where he finishes high school.
The book format allows the reader to see various episodes/scenarios from two diverse perspectives: the American young adult and the Kenyan child. This itself is an education, and an engaging one at that. (In Kenya, commenting on someone’s weight gain is a compliment.) Most interesting and informative is Claire’s awareness, through observation, intuition and her academic study (two master’s degrees, from Stanford and Oxford), of the ramifications of cross-cultural charitable work. How can it be truly helpful rather than a hindrance? She looks at the questions: Was it right to bring one child to the U.S. when others were left behind? The book ends with Sammy returning to Kenya for a visit (after spending a year in Ecuador on a cross-cultural program), unsure of his future plans. His eyes and heart have been opened to the possibilities of a life of service. Will it be in Kenya or America?
It seems that he and his caretakers have been well-guided in their young lives. May guardian angels continue to protect their paths.
Reviewed by Evelyn Bence on July 17, 2014