It’s really hard not to notice this novel, with a cover like that. Honestly. It’s bright and gorgeous and one of those covers that absolutely makes you want to judge the book inside and read it even if you really don’t even have an idea what it’s about. So that’s about where I was with it. And then I saw some reviews on bookstagram that had nothing but good things to say (especially from @blkemilydickinson), so I started it as soon as the audiobook was ready for me at the library! (Also, thanks to Dutton Books for the gifted copy of the finished published physical copy.)
“We all be speaking different because we all are having different growing-up life, but we can all be understanding each other if we just take the time to listen well.”
Adunni is a 14-year-old girl living in a rural village in Nigeria. Although her beloved mother has died, Adunni is keeping her memory alive by fighting for the one thing her mother told her would provide the best future she could have: an education. And despite her father selling her into a marriage as a third wife, despite a tragedy in her married home that forces her to run away from everything she’s ever known, despite being trafficked into domestic slavery in Lagos, despite all her suffering and people continuing to tell and show her that she isn’t worth anything…Adunni never stops fighting for a better future for herself, for her right to have not just a voice, but a louding voice.
Let me just start by adding my voice to the praises other have sung about this book. It is something really special. I’ll get into more detail, but I just need to say that the story on the inside of this novel shines just as brightly as the colors on the cover. There is just so much life and vibrancy on every single page. Adunni’s voice is clear and personal and distinctive and proud in a way that filled me up a little more with every chapter I read. For all the violence and challenges and struggles and pain that Adunni has experienced in her short life, there is a spark in her that just cannot be doused. There are moments of infectious joy and hope and optimism from her all throughout, no matter what else is going on, and I can only wish for that kind of life outlook for myself. Truly. Her feelings are so big and are conveyed with such depth and fullness. And the rest of the language, in addition to Adunni’s own voice, like the settings and relationships and character development/interactions and story pacing and general creativity and tangibility in vocabulary and descriptions…all of it is spectacular. I am really in awe of Daré’s writing.
There are a few other things I loved about this book that I want to share. First, I feel like this is a novel that completely transported me in space. I have never been for Nigeria, so I have nothing to compare this novel to, but I felt like the way Daré wrote about it, from the settings to the culture and traditions, to the speech patterns and more all really brought the country to life for me. I am adding what I “learned” here to everything I experience from Americanah in an effort to start to build a more nuanced understanding of this country. To that end, I loved the way Daré used the (fake) book of facts about Nigeria that Adunni was reading to add some greater context to this story. It was both educational and allowed the reader to learn from these facts while simultaneously learning from Adunni’s experience with and interpretations of them as well. I’ve rarely seen this device used better. I also loved the way all the female characters were created in this story, from Adunni herself to her to Khadija (the second wife), to her “employer” Big Madam, to her friend/benefactor Ms. Tia to all the smaller side characters that were highlighted throughout. They represented so many difference experiences with being female in Nigerian culture, so the reader could see and learn that, like in all places/cultures, no single experience represents the whole. And yet at the same time, all were clear in showing the various ways women face challenges and discrimination that man do not have to deal with. Finally, as a side note, the narration was freaking fantastic, so full of inflection and feeling, and really some of the best voice acting I have heard in an audiobook in a while.
This novel was simply wonderful. My heart broke for everything Adunni had to deal with at just 14 years old (and it was so, so much – this novel covers a lot of ground without ever feeling rushed or overfull). And yet I couldn’t help breaking into great big smiles at her many moments of joy and empathy. I fell headfirst into Adunni’s story and life and cheered at every moment that she took a step closer to achieving the education and louding voice that she dreamt of and deserved to have. She was an amazing, resilient character and I loved reading her story and watching her work towards a better future for herself…one that would allow her to turn around and help other girls just like her. So inspiring.
A few quotes/passages that stood out while I was reading:
“…I don’t just want to be having any kind of voice…I want a louding voice.”
“But I don’t want to born anything now. How will a girl like me born childrens? Why will I fill up the world with sad childrens that are not having a chance to go to school? Why make the world to be one big, sad, silent place because all the childrens are not having a voice?”
“Death, he tall like a iroko tree, with no body, no flesh, no eyes, only mouth and teeths. Plenty teeths, the thin of pencil and the sharp of blade for biting and killing. Death is not having legs. But it have two wings of nails and arrows. Death can fly and kill the bird in the air dead, strike them from the sky and fall them to the ground, scatter their brain. It can be swimming too, swallow the fishes inside the river. When it is wanting to kill a person, it will fly, keeping hisself over their head, sailing like a boat on top of the water of the soul, waiting for when it will just snatch the person from the earth. Death can take form of anything. It clever like that. Today, it can take form of a car, cause a accident; tomorrow it can shape hisself as a gun, a bullet, a knife, a coughing-blood sickness. It can take form of a dry palm frond and flog a person until the person is dying. Like Lamidi the farmer. Or as a rope to squeeze all the life from a person, like Tafa, Asabi’s lover.”
“‘My mama say education will give me a voice. I want more than just a voice, Ms. Tia. I want a louding voice,’ I say. ‘I want to enter a room a people will hear be even before I open my mouth to be speaking. I want to live in this life and help many people so that when I grow old and die, I will still be living through the people I am helping. […] The girls in my village don’t have much chance for school. I want to change that, Ms. Tia, because those girls, they will grow up and born many more great people to make Nigeria even more better than now.’”
“You just need to hold on to that belief and never let go. When you get up every day, I want you to remind yourself that tomorrow will be better than today. That you are a person of value. That you are important. You must believe this…”
“I want to ask, to scream, why are the women in Nigeria seem to be suffering for everything more than the men?”
“…sometimes even the strongest of people can suffer a weakness,”
“I fall to the floor and start to cry […] for myself, for the loss of everything good and happy, for the pain of the past and the promise of the future.”