Finding a home in friendship, Aiden Maslen
February 10, 2021
Trainsurfer by Kate Richards is the story of Jabu, a young black boy in the 1980s, who flees the hospital in Johannesburg when he’s orphaned following the death of his mother.
He’s shown how to trainsurf by a group of schoolboys as a way to get to his home in Soweto. It was cool when Jabu just stood straight up on top of the train to trainsurf, when usually people go onto their hands and knees first. After witnessing a horrible accident that happened to another trainsurfer, Jabu is so scared that he decides to use a different mode of transport to make his way to his aunt in Durban.
He decides to stow away in the back of a truck, not knowing what’s inside, only to get a huge surprise. This trip with an endangered animal, Thandi, is a hugely positive and successful experience for Jabu, because he makes a friend, gets paid for his time, and makes it to Durban.
I didn’t like the way that black and white people were separated because of their colour – I didn’t know anything about segregation until I read the book!
After finding a dented surfboard in the bin he tries to learn to surf but a wave pushes him off and, not being able to swim, he is rescued by a white girl, Billie, who was surfing at the Black people’s beach. This new-found friend helps him find his aunt’s house and then offers him a job gardening at her parent’s house. I didn’t like Jabu’s aunt because she was very mean; forcing him to get a job to live in her house otherwise Jabu would be kicked out!
His friendship with Billie and the homeless kids opens up a new life for him and he has no idea what is ahead.
My favourite part of the story is when Jabu climbs into the truck and finds out that a baby rhinoceros is inside. He is surprised that she protects him when the truck drivers discover him stowed away and tries to remove him from the truck.
It’s also good when Jabu is the first Black person to compete in a surfing competition – the judges don’t like his style of surfing but the crowds and the media love it. It’s a pretty cool moment. Entering this competition is a big turning point in Jabu’s life, and it opens up more opportunities for black people in South Africa.
I like the part when Jabu and Billie save the homeless kids who were going to be put in jail. Also, Jabu and Billie saw that someone needed to help the Black street kids, so they later created ‘Kids Surf 4 Life’ which is pretty cool and according to the book, is still going 40 years later (but I can’t find it online).
I like how the author shows the different personalities of the cheeky homeless kids, and the book was easy to read, even if there were parts of the book that I didn’t like. I hated it when Jabu was punched by another surfer, and when the homeless boys ran away from him, or when they tricked him into putting money into an out of order phone box.
Jabu’s instinct is to run from stuff he does not like, which he stops doing when he finds a place that is his home again.
- Aiden Maslen is 12 and lives in Auckland