Never Too Late, a book by Femrite — a group of Ugandan women writers — is an anthology featuring stories of daily youth struggles and experiences. The stories, all set in Uganda, offer insights into the emotional confusion and social challenges facing the youth and that often remain unknown to adults.
The anthology was born out of a desire by Femrite to generate literature for positive change aimed at addressing social issues facing not just the youth but society at large.
Although the stories and characters are all fictional, the stories give real-life experiences from around the world as seen from the themes.
The book tackles the themes of sex and sexuality, courage and ambition, love and betrayal, religion, teenage pregnancy, homosexuality, HIV/Aids, incest, drug abuse, parental care or lack of it.
In all the stories, the young people tell their stories in the first person, which helps to bring out their emotions very well. Each story tells of a different experience and challenge. The stories go further and offer solutions through peer suggestions.
For most of the stories, the adults appear to be the cause of the problems or fail to understand their children, who are desperate for their guidance. This is a reality of everyday life.
The story The Greatest Uganda Novel explores the themes of courage and ambitions that young people ought to emulate. Although the story has a low point when the narrator’s brother dies, the narrator nevertheless weathers the loss and is determined to be a writer someday no matter how long it takes her. And she has her peers to thank who never stop encouraging her.
However, some stories pose tougher questions even when the writers attempt to provide solutions.
Three stories tackle the theme of HIV/Aids and raise serious issues since the epidemic does not seem to be abating. The issue of children born and growing up with HIV for instance, cannot be easily resolved even by adults.
The story Hope Each Day by Brenda Lubwama may temporarily give hope to people living with HIV, but the issues are complicated.
Globally, there is a generation of children growing up with HIV. How can society then deal with the problem to avoid further infection of HIV-free children as the young ones become sexually active?
Hope Each Day is a story about Sheba, once a “good” girl who belonged to the Christian Union at her school, but suddenly chooses to join a “bad” group, and acquired a boyfriend. The boyfriend, Jake, is living with HIV; in their first sexual encounter he does not use protection and infects Sheba, who only learns of his status and hers during an HIV and pregnancy test in school.
The author writes: “Sheba had taken his money and eluded him several times. He was sure that the song was going to change the tune and she would pay in full measure. As the girls enjoyed the dance, Jake secretly unrolled the paper that he had secretly kept in a small pocket at the back of his khaki trousers. His friends had told him that would do the trick… within a short time, she was drunk and out of control. Jake summoned his friends who supported her and they were out of the dance hall.”
Serina by Rose Rwakasisi is another HIV-themed tale of a young girl called Serina who is also an orphan. She faces discrimination from her paternal aunt on suspicion that she could be HIV-positive because her parents died of the disease.
Her aunt, however, does not take her for testing. Against all odds, she finds help through an outsider who assists her to get tested for HIV to verify her status. She turns out negative. Ironically, her aunt later tests HIV-positive.
This story provides pertinent lessons on HIV. That first, we should have the courage to test to know our status so that we can live positively, and second, to stop discrimination against HIV-positive persons because we could get infected and would like to be treated fairly ourselves.
However, some stories appeared to be negative. For example, Hanging Out at Dazzles by Constance Obonyo, seems to encourage young people to live a careless carefree life of partying and clubbing and expect no consequences.
The story also appears to downplay parental power over children, and implies that young people can and should have their way.
Generally, Never Too Late is a must read for all age groups as it raises questions and most times provides answers that require collective action.