This book at a glance…
Title: It’s Trevor Noah: Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood
Author: Trevor Noah
Publisher: Delacorte Books for Young Readers
Copyright Date: April 9, 2019
Age range: 10 and up
Lexile Level: 780L
“‘I know you see me as some crazy nag,’ [my mother] said, ‘but you forget the reason I ride you so hard and give you so much grief is because I love you. Everything I have every done I’ve done from a place of love. If I don’t punish you, the world will punish you even worse. The world doesn’t love you. If the police get you, the police don’t love you. When I beat you I’m trying to save you. When they beat you, they’re trying to kill you” (236).
This book tells the story of Trevor Noah, comedian, activist and host of The Daily Show. The adult version of this book, called Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood was published in 2016, with this “adapted for young readers” edition following in 2019.
The first line of this book is a real hook, and I personally was drawn in immediately. “I was nine years old when my mother threw me out of a moving car” (5).
Trevor Noah was literally born a crime. In South Africa in 1984 (the year Trevor was born) it was legitimately a crime for a white person and a black person to have a baby together. Noah writes, “Unlike in America, where anyone with one drop of black blood automatically became black, in South Africa mixed people came to be classified as their own separate group, neither black nor white but what we call ‘colored'” (22). Trevor wasn’t allowed to claim his father as his father because he was white. There’s a really heartbreaking story in here about his father literally having to cross the street when he was walking with Trevor so that no one would think they were related.
Because being born colored was illegal in South Africa at the time, Noah grew up without seeing many other kids who looked like him. He spent most of his childhood/young adulthood trying to figure out if he fit with the black kids or the white kids.
Now, Trevor Noah is known for his comedy and political commentary (the two often mix) but when he was a young adult, he was a hustler. Along with a couple of friends, he would buy things for a very cheap price, and flip them in the hood to make more money. Eventually when he moved out of his mother’s house, he became more focused on his career was a DJ/personality and would work parties and events.
When Trevor was a young man he got a call from his younger brother Andrew saying his mother had been shot. Trevor’s step father and Andrew’s father Abel had shot their mother in the leg and in the head in an act of attempted murder. Throughout this whole book, Trevor and his family struggled with money, but they always had love for each other. When Trevor arrived at the hospital they told him his mother didn’t have health insurance, and he gave them his credit card. The nurse tried to decline, telling him, “You don’t understand. I’ve seen this happen. Your mother could be in the ICU for weeks, This could cost you five hundred thousand, six hundred thousand. Maybe even millions. You could be in debt for the rest of your life'” (272). After some consideration (mostly about how angry his mother would be when she found out how much money he had spent on her) Trevor insisted the nurse take his card.
I enjoyed this book a lot. I am a fan of Trevor Noah already, but I feel that knowing his story helps me understand him and his comedy/commentary a little better.
I really loved this book. My husband read the adult version a couple of years ago so we were able to talk about some of the highlights. My only criticism is that some of it seemed a little out of order, or it recapped in a way that personally I didn’t think was useful. Noah had been talking about Abel, his mothers boyfriend-turned husband throughout the whole book, and then randomly in chapter 17 he reintroduced Abel in a way that seemed brand new. So despite mentioning him heavily throughout the book, we got a recap 50 pages from the end. I thought that was odd but other than that I thought it was organized very well.
There are no photos in this book. I am not sure why that decision was made, but aside from a small photo on the back of the book cover, none are included. I always like photos in nonfiction books because then I can visualize the characters and where the story takes place.
Reasons to Include in a Collection:
I think this is a really important story to tell. There aren’t a lot of biographies about children/teens from South America, and even as an adult I learned a lot about different groups of people and apartheid. It is a gook window for American readers as well. So many books focus on slavery and the Holocaust, but this book is on similar topics, but not that long ago. Trevor is only 11 years older than I am and he wasn’t supposed to be born. That is a really striking sentiment. I think this would be a valuable addition to any teen/YA department.
Because this book is a biography from a different culture, with a social justice theme (race, segregation, apartheid, etc) I chose similar books that fit into those categories, but without being *too* similar and telling the same story.
We Are Displaced: My Journey and Stories from Refugee Girls Around the World by Malala Yousafzai
This is a refugee story by Malala Yousafzai. In this book, she recounts her own personal story about fleeing her country, and other stories of girls from around the world who were displaced by war and other tragedy.
They Called Us Enemy by George Takei
This book is about actor/activist George Takei’s time in a Japanese internment camp in the United States in the 1940’s. Readers who enjoyed Born a Crime will see similar themes of race, segregation, and injustice in this story.
Recommended Book Pairings:
Nelson Mandela: The Authorized Comic Book by the Nelson Mandela Foundation
Noah mentions Nelson Mandela on multiple occasions, so this book would be a great resource. Because it is a graphic novel, this would give middle/high school students a quick and easy rundown of Mandela’s life, with enough context to make Noah’s commentary understandable.
What Was Life Like Under Apartheid? by Baby Professor
This is one of the only books I could find on apartheid for children/young adults. Noah talks about apartheid in enough detail to understand, but this book would outline apartheid in more detail, allow students to really understand what happened and understand Trevor’s situation a little better.