BOOK NOOK: ‘The High School Gent’ by Miriam Khamadi Were

Tuesday November 14 2017

In Miriam Khamadi Were’s book The High School

In Miriam Khamadi Were’s book The High School Gent, the complex and overtly confusing process of transforming a mere teen into a malleable senior high school student ready for the next step in life plays out. PHOTO| BENSON MWANGI 

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The Career Decision-making of High School Studentsin Kenya study by Bathsheba K Osoro, Norman E Amundson and William A Borgen identifies high school as the place where students come into terms with their roles in life, work values and make plans for work and next level in their education.

In Miriam Khamadi Were’s book The High School Gent, the complex and overtly confusing process of transforming a mere teen into a malleable senior high school student ready for the next step in life plays out.


Washington Namunyu has joined Rasika Government Secondary School on a bursary. He’s a young man whose character moves him to make really hard decisions first for himself with an effect on those around him.

Apparently, the first year students “were put through the school initiation ceremonies. For the whole of the first term, the only sound considered permissible from new boys was an occasional groan, as their muscles ached from the beatings, whippings, and from being chased for miles around the compound without clothes in the chilly night air”.

Namunyu flees to the headmaster’s house clad in nothing but underwear and reports the evil that was happening.

The tradition ostensibly ends but the young man is almost ostracised as those jealous of his courage and new found fame watch him from a distance while others are not impressed by a person who seems to have the signs of a snitch.

The first term is a terrible time for Namunyu who even entertains thoughts of moving to another school.

Things get worse for the young gent as his soft voice that had landed him an opening in the school choir changes.

It starts to croak like that of a frog as he slowly becomes a full-fledged teenager.


Be as it may, the young man returns for the second-term.

Namunyu is determined to make his stay in Rasika a memorable one by making friends. He soon finds a tall, timorous, shy first year in another stream and befriends him.

From the beginning the determination of Namunyu and ability to bring out the best in another is clear. His leadership qualities may be unconscious to him but not those around him.

His ingenuity, focus and fortitude even in difficult moments triumphs every time. For instance, he transmutes a slender, scared fellow first year into a courageous person able to fight for himself in hours.


Miriam Were’s The High School Gent is written in a simple, amusing tone.

First published in 1972, the high school events woven in the come-of-age story brings out the realities and challenges of a typical boarding school and struggles of teenagers as they stride through the complex sea of high school, changing anatomy and growing minds.

The relevance of the book today shows that the more things change in secondary schools the more they remain rigid and eternal even in a digital age.


Were speaks to a teen’s growing mind in an unassuming yet potent way.

From the beginning, she makes it clear no child in school has to go through bullying that mostly happens without the knowledge of the institution’s administration. Washington Namunyu’s ability to stand for himself saving even his fellow new comers from obvious torture is excellently stressed.


The insistenceon academics only, leaving out the other delights of high school has also been disparaged.

The High School Gentseemingly shouts loudly about the ability of young men and women to engage in extra-curricular activities vis-à-vis academics for holistic growth. Sports, clubs such as debate club, Readers club, Scouts, Girl Guides among others are illuminated in a positive light and their ability to transform timid teens into happy, lively and sharp young people in body and mind is very clear. In such meetings, friendships can grow and the best lessons and principles of life learned.  


The Prisoner of Zendaby Anthony Hope and Richard Doddridge Blackmore's Lorna Doone capture the imagination of Namunyu and his friend Ginendwa.

They wonder whether they will ever find their own Lorna Doone and Princess Flavia. Miriam easily weaves some romance to captivate a young mind as Namunyu and Sarah collide in a Scouts camp.

She confronts the confusion that besets every teen at that age in relation to the issues of love and relationships.

Both Sarah and Namunyu will have to outgrow some strongly held principles and face the brutal pragmatisms of life.

Evidently, with proper leadership and clarity of purpose, a young romance can blossom even with piercing challenges.


The issue of dropping out of school due to unplanned pregnancies is also well netted. Fridah and Sarah while impressed and attracted to Ginendwa and Namunyu respectively have seen lots of classmates in Bulira Girls’ High end their pursuit of education due to unplanned pregnancies.

Most of the culprits, mostly boys in school desert them and the girls have to vacate their learning with shame.

Miriam Were makes a case for termination of correspondence where intentions are not for something that lasts while being perceptively alive to the fact that friendships and intense relationships are a reality among teens.


High school is obviously where minds are shaped about many things including career. The confusion and influence by parents and sponsors on young minds in the choice of their future endeavours is a sour captured in The High School Gent.

Miriam Were seems to motivate young people to stand for what they want to pursue in future. She convincingly shows there is life for those unable to join colleges and high education institutions for any reason. Young people should be left to decide their future without parental or societal coercion.

The High School Genthas been reprinted since 2005 by Mvule Africa Publishers.

It is the perfect book to hand a Kenyan teen at home for the long 2017 holiday season to capture his or her imagination about life, youthful romance, career matters, education, school engagement and interaction, effective decision-making, dealing with personal and family tragedies among other issues Miriam Khamadi Were has been able to capture in a fast-moving, captivating story.