I have a confession to make. For most of 2011, I was frightened of reading non-fiction. You may have heard the one about how I'm a slow reader, especially slow by book blogging standards. After a few so-so non-fiction reads that dragged down the pace of my already turtle-ish reading speed to a distinctly unenjoyable creepy crawl, you might be able to understand my reluctance to take a chance on anymore non-fiction that had the potential to easily derail my reading momentum.
The thing is my reading past is littered with some extremely fantastic non-fiction reads, but for most of 2011 I let a few bad apples ruin the whole crop for me. Despite my irrational fears and probably against my better judgement, I requested a copy of Conor Grennan's Little Princes for review from William Morrow Paperbacks. When I'm not pathologically avoiding non-fiction, Grennan's story of rescuing trafficked children in Nepal is just the sort of non-fiction to which I'm drawn. Just my luck, it arrived in the mail just after I'd finished tearing through Mockingjay and was ready for something totally different. Something...perhaps non-fiction? I'm so glad that all the planets aligned, and I picked up this book for my last read of 2011 because I loved it and I think maybe, just maybe, it's broken through my foolish fears and opened up the world of non-fiction for me again.
Little Princes: One Man's Promise to Bring Home the Lost Children of Nepal
by Conor Grennan
William Morrow Paperbacks
Conor Grennan's unexpected journey began with a trip around the world. To quiet the naysayers who thought spending his life savings on world travel was a touch on the irresponsible, self-indulgent side, some volunteering was in order. To his credit, Grennan didn't elect to spend his time comforting koalas, he signed up for a few months volunteering at an orphanage in civil war-torn Nepal. There he discovered that many of Nepal's orphans are not orphans at all but children trafficked away from their distant homes for the gain of men who would promise desperate parents a safe haven for their children. These parents, believing they could save their children from becoming drafted into the Maoist rebel army and have them be educated and fed in distant Kathmandu to boot, sacrificed everything to send their children to "safety." Safety, however, turned out to be more like slavery to the greedy men who were pleased to line their own pockets with the profits from begging children and destitute families.
Little did Conor realize how much he would come to love the kids at the Little Princes Children's Home in Godawari, kids who would pile on new volunteers at the least provocation, who good-naturedly ribbed culture-shocked Conor, kids who were so far from home and family but who managed to be joyful anyway. Little did he expect that after his year of world travel, he would find himself returning to Little Princes for another stint of volunteering. He could hardly have imagined that seven trafficked kids he promised safety would see him rejecting the luxuries of first world living in favor of returning to Nepal to start a children's home of his own and to attempt an improbable quest to reunite trafficked children with their parents in the distant, isolated region of Humla.
Grennan's story is downright inspiring. He draws out the kids' personalities vividly in his writing, and it's easy to understand how one could be passionate about saving them despite the odds. Grennan's memoir is peppered with humor, with suspense, danger, and even a surprising and genuine love story.
Most impressive, though, is Grennan's honest telling of his story and the transformation of his character from his first time stepping through the gate at Little Princes to who he became through working at the would-be impossible task of finding 7 missing children among thousands. Grennan tells it like it is starting with his not-so-honorable reasons for volunteering in the first place, giving us all the embarrassing details of trying to fit into a new culture with a bunch of kids whose names he can initially barely remember, and not shying away from the huge emotional attachment he had to these kids after only a few weeks. He makes no secret of initially using his volunteering in Nepal story to woo women at bars, is unapologetic about his non-interest in getting married and having kids of his own. By the time the last page is flipped, readers will feel like they really know Conor Grennan, that they were there watching as stopped being a something of a self-involved boy and became a passionate, self-sacrificing man. Readers won't be able to help liking him, despite and perhaps because of how freely he describes his failings alongside his triumphs.
Little Princes somehow manages to be a compulsively readable story about a painful problem, a tribute to children with spectacular resilience, and a portrait of an average guy who became a hero for children in Nepal.
And in even more good news, if you happen to buy a copy, not only will you have the pleasure of reading a fantastic book, part of the proceeds will go to Grennan's non-profit, Next Generation Nepal, to keep doing the good work that you'll be reading about in the book.
(Thanks to William Morrow Paperbacks for sending me a copy for review!)