One YA rom-com and two African lit titles.
Frankly in Love by David Yoon
I forget how much I adore YA romantic comedies, until I actually read a really well written one. This happened to be the case with David Yoon's Frankly in Love. This book is cute, deep, political, cringe, precious, warm, and so much more.
Our main character, Frank Li, is an American high school senior who constantly feels stuck between two identities: the Koreaness and old school ways of his parents and the open-ended culture of the America he's come to know. Then he starts to like a white girl. Foreshadowing the chaos that will happen when his parents find out, he devises a plan with another Korean-American friend in a similar situation to fake date each other, while they both date the people they know their parents won't approve of.
Things obviously get messy and head in a different direction than what Frank expected. But this new messy sort of excites him, and makes him learn and understand different things of what it means to belong, to love, what it means to live one's life unapologetically even if it means disagreeing with family. He also learns the importance of family through it all, and it's very sad and sweet and real how it all plays out.
Also, I feel the the title of the book is misleading. There are so many other aspects of a coming-of-age story besides the romance that Yoon portrays really well. He's not afraid to show the imperfections of this kid who's trying to figure out who he is before he graduates high school. Frank is dealing with his racist immigrant parents and working really hard to understand who they are, and relationship dynamics outside of family, all while waiting for university acceptance letters, and transitioning into an adult. I really felt like I was getting to know a real teenager going through all the ups and downs of their life, being the sweetest people one moment then the biggest jerks the next, still having childish reactions to non-issues then soon rushing to admit their faults when things get tough.
I think this is the first Kenyan author I've read all year, which says a lot!
Meja and Maina are two boys who struggle to make ends meet for their whole lives. At the start of the book, we find them surviving on the streets, sleeping in dumpsters and eating rotten food. Then as they grow up, they go through pitfalls that seem to send them back where they started at square one of poverty. The ambition of Meja together with the gall of Maina seem to fade as they become men and understand that life won't get better for them at all.
What started out as a light-hearted narrative on survival slowly turns into a dark reality of a life of struggle with no way of looking up.
This book was incredibly depressing at the end, honestly. I was enjoying the majority of the book and the childish lighthearted tone Mwangi used through most of it. But the ending just made me shut up and take a moment to ponder over the fates of our characters. Mwangi really made the circumstances of the two characters hit hard and loud all at once, then he just left us to sit with all the feels.
This book is just poetry. Translated from French, this book reads like an epic, honestly.
Told through letters to her best friend, Aissatou, is the story of Ramatoulaye's journey of self worth and contentedness with her life as a woman.
Ramatoulaye focuses on the act of polygamy in Senegal, by narrating her experience when her husband decided to marry one of her daughter's friends, without even consulting her. Ramatoulaye describes her heartbreak and anger, all the while ruminating how such an act is an injustice to all women involved; being something of the past that bondages women from true freedom. She comments on the ease of how these choices made my men are, handled with such non concern and casualness, with the expectation of the wives to be understanding and quiet, when really, they are a big deal!
Ramatoulaye narrates Aissatou's experience with her own husband who seemed like a decent man until he married a younger woman. Aissatou had refused to be constrained by an old tradition and ended up moving abroad, becoming self sufficient for her and her children. Through Aissatou's experience and encounters with other women, Ramatoulaye is able to see the strength that these women including herself have if they make the choice to resist the passive answers of tradition and instead fight by living for themselves. From this realization, Ramtoulaye ends her letter with a newfound contentedness, happiness even, in her own self and what she has been able to do for herself.
I really enjoyed reading this book. It was refreshing to read a story on resistance of traditional African norms that would lead to women empowerment. It really made me appreciate women more, especially the role of the wife in traditional African households, who are so often depicted as only having to live to produce a family and that's it.