Remember me raving about this book in this post? Well, I happily
Let me tell you a story about frustration. A dog used to follow me around when I was ten. One day my father had his driver run over this dog in plain view of the house. I watched from my window.
The car reversed. Again his tyres rolled over my dog and then he sent for me.
‘I’m so sorry. I know how much that dog meant to you. I don’t know how this idiot didn’t see it.’
I knew he was lying.
He knew I knew and in that moment I felt an anger fill me, so strong it would surely have killed one of us if I let it loose.
…….Finally I said, ‘Daddy, please can we run over my dog again?’
Both he and the driver were visibly shocked. My father nodded, ‘Do as she says’
‘Aim for the head’, I said, leaning against the car and taking perverse pleasure in the driver shrinking away.
Mr Johnson: 0
Plot – Two teenagers experiencing opposite realities in Lagos, meet on one hot Summer’s day on a busy Lagos road. One driven by a chauffeur in an air conditioned car. The other a hawker –running mini-Bolt races as he tries to sell ice cream to customers in moving cars. Naija peeps you can imagine this scenario right? The thrill and danger….not!
She was instantly drawn to the handsome young man and like a cat and its prey, she stalked him; taking that same route daily and ostensibly buying the cheap lollies though she didn’t care for them.
Through awkward conversations and dates they settle into an uneasy friendship whose trajectory will be influenced by their respective fathers.
Hers through a game of wills she engages in with her father.
His through the specter of former wealth erased by the death of his father and the present burden of caring for a mother and sister.
A sealed letter, a one armed beggar, a marriage proposal and sinister secrets from the past come flying out of the closet as the romance races to a thrilling conclusion.
Chibuzo has an exceptional writing style, “We had come to Yaba market the home of cheap wooden stalls bowed under the weight of the average Nigerian’s need to look Western for as Eastern a price as possible” little wonder she already has a 2-book contract with Faber and Faber and she's only 22.
The plot was plausible to a great extent - rich girl/poor boy, corruption slum/high brow lifestyles, corruption, teenagers. She used a style heavy on dialogue to let Abike and the hawker recount events in their own perspective. Though it involved repetition of scenarios, Iwill admit that it didn’t get boring.
I learnt a thing or two about the business of hawking through this book. Like that there is hierarchy in hawking, with recharge card sellers at the top of the chain the leaders, then those who sell bric a brics (photographs of presidents, bed sheets, crockery), ice cream sellers, foreign sweets sellers, foreign fruits sellers and at the bottom boiled peanut sellers!!
It was also a revelation of the grim life within the slums in Lagos. I always thought I understood poverty but I stand corrected. I also thought I understood what it meant to be the pampered child of rich parents. This book revealed other facets of wealthy living that made me want to forswear riches.
It was a grim read. Not enough light.
In a way Chibuzo should be applauded for taking this brave route.. it could have been as easy to give it a sunny happily ever after conclusion. Rather the two leads lived lives of quiet desperation. It was understandable for the young man who has sacrificed his dreams on the altar of sudden poverty. But it was also interesting to note this desperation in Abike’s life, you would expect the pampered rich girl to be a happy teenager more interested in parties and boys, but rather we had one with a mean streak and manipulative at every turn.
The first two pages that gripped me at 'first read' should have given me an inkling.
Maybe it’s me not the author….
I couldn’t endear to the romance between the two leads enough to make me care for its survival or dissolution. The budding romance was awkward to say the least, all stares and angst and yet no sizzle. Debo was referred to as ‘the hawker’, ‘my hawker’ throughout the book and this served to de-personalise him for me. Moreover I couldn’t cotton to the age of the characters. 17 and 18.
Adura(Naijalines) recently asked for inputs/opinions about the age of the characters in her book. This has made me aware of how important it is to a plot for the readers to be comfortable with the age of the characters.
I really really wanted to love this book but it wasn’t to be. sigh. This doesn’t take away from the fact that Chibuzo is a talented writer with a style beyond her years. I hope to see her growth in her next book.
Have you read the book? What do you think?