Singing A Much Needed Song: A Review of Ayobami Adebayo’s ‘Stay With Me’

Stay With Me, the debut novel by Ayobami Adebayo, is a book that I probably won’t stop talking about for a long time, precisely because it is so deeply important and unique a read.

Set in 1980s Nigeria, Stay With Me follows the complicated domestic life of Yejide, a woman who has been hoping desperately for a child. Hounded by her husband’s family to produce a male heir to the family name, she has tried everything: medical consultations with fertility specialists, pilgrimages up mountains, dances with prophets and many prayers to her God. However, when her husband is forced by his family to take a second wife, Yejide is forced to confront all the things she thought she was safe from.

It is no wonder such a compelling and original novel such as Stay With Me has been shortlisted as part of the 2017 Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction – Adebayo sings a much needed song about women, their health, their family lives and their fight to be heard above the noise of their communities. Stay With Me is so incredibly different from books I have read in the past. Its expression of Nigerian culture and family life is vivid and living, unafraid to make comment on the banality of the everyday. In saying that, Adebayo tackles subject matter that is usually left undiscussed in literature, from phantom pregnancy to infant death to culturally imposed polygamy. I was particularly captivated by the ways in which Yejide’s husband’s family and the pressure they put on her to conceive ended up causing her to imagine a pregnancy. It was refreshing to read about the intersections between motherhood, family pressure and women’s mental health, especially when they are written about with such intensity. Beyond this, it was interesting to see how the death of multiple children affected the family unit, and how cultural traditions influenced the reception and interpretation of these deaths, even as recently as the 1980s. I will admit I am not very well versed in the cultural traditions of Nigerian communities, but Stay With Me provided an incredible insight into the clash of modern family values and the long-held traditions of families and cultural communities.

Beyond the domestic and family spaces that dominate the narrative, Adebayo explores the tumultuous politics of 1980’s Nigeria, and how the social landscape of Nigeria was changed by reactions to the government and protests against it. From raids of local communities by bandits and gangs, to student protests and acts of revolution, Stay With Me is punctuated with intensely felt descriptions of fear, joy and sacrifice. Paralleled with the turmoil of the home spaces in this novel, readers are captivated by the feeling of helplessness that Yejide so often confesses. Sure she has her independence, but she is also trapped by her own desires – for freedom, for love, for a child, for sexual pleasure, for the ability to feel safe in her own body.

Yejide is a woman like no other, and I can’t help but feel as though she is one of the most uniquely written women I have come across this year in fiction, with an equally unique, diverse and compelling story that everyone should invest it. I can’t help but admire Ayobami Adebayo’s incredible talent for character development and storytelling, alongside her ability to draw our attention towards stories that have traditionally been pushed aside in favour of Western-orientated books. As a debut novel, Stay With Me dazzles, and introduces a new talent to keep our eyes on, and I can’t wait to see what Adebayo writes next. I’m calling it now – she is one of the best voices of our time.

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Stay With Me (Allen & Unwin, RRP $27.99) is now available in all good book stores. As always, INWORDSANDINK encourages its readers to buy from, and support their local independent book stores.

Thank you once again to Allen & Unwin for sending me a copy of Ayobami Adebayo’s Stay With Me for review. Whilst I was sent the book for reviewing purposes, I was not in any way paid or financially obligated to write this review.

 

© Hayley New 2017

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More Than A Protest – A Review of Angie Thomas’ ‘The Hate U Give’

“I look at books as being a form of activism because a lot of times they’ll show us a side of the world that we may not have known about.” – Angie Thomas

Every once in a while, I read a book that I wish I had read years ago. Angie Thomas’ debut novel The Hate U Give gave me that exact feeling.

The Hate U Give follows Starr, a young African American teen living in a poor neighbourhood, who witnesses the fatal shooting of her unarmed friend Khalil by a police officer. It is a story that feels all too real in our current political climate, and multiple times whilst reading this book, I could not help but think that this story could have easily been non-fiction.

All too often, we hear stories about unarmed African Americans, usually young men or teenagers, being fatally shot by police officers in the US. As an Australian, a lot of these stories come to me through news reporters or online articles, and as such are mediated by white adult voices, voices that are often so removed from incidents like this that it is impossible to truly gather a sense of how situations like this affect local communities and their young people. The Hate U Give broke that tradition for me, bringing me an up-close encounter with the reality of how events like this impact a community from the inside, and the nuances of community mourning and reaction.

One of the most profound themes throughout this novel is that of remembrance, and how we choose to remember young people who have been killed. Throughout the novel, the possibility of Khalil’s drug dealing past dominates a lot of media and external discourse surrounding Khalil’s death, almost as if this justifies his death. However, Starr constantly pushes back against this discourse, forcing the spotlight to shift, if ever so slightly, towards the friend she knew, towards the facts of his death at the hands of a police officer who chose to shoot an unarmed innocent teenager based on the colour of his skin.

Angie Thomas takes her insight a step further with her description of poverty, neighbourhoods ruled by gang wars, racial politics, class disparities, family structures, and the education system, and how each of these areas are affected by the death of a young member of the community. Her approach to these issues is tremendously heartfelt and unabashedly real – she is not trying to sugar coat the realities of American social systems by any means, but rather, pull them apart for critique. In choosing to do so through the medium of Young Adult fiction, she has opened up a new place for discussion of these issues for young people and has allowed them to engage in a more critical train of thought – something that our young people are already doing, and should be encouraged to continue with new and important perspectives.

I highly encourage anyone and everyone to read this book. It is easily one of the most insightful and brilliantly written books I have read and hits upon an issue that is a necessary point of discussion, especially in the Trump-era. More importantly, I think that this is a book that should be on the high school curriculum, both in the US and here in Australia, and I hope that educators will consider the impact of books like this on the ways in which young people can engage with social issues. I know that my own understanding of the issues discussed in this book has been hugely impacted, and this story will stay with me for a long time.

 

The Hate U Give is now available in all good bookstores. As always, INWORDSANDINK encourages its readers to buy from and support their local independent bookstores and support independent press.

Thank you once again to Walker Books Australia for sending me a copy of The Hate U Give. Whilst I was sent the book for reviewing purposes, I was not in any way paid or financially obligated to write this review.

 

 

© Hayley New 2017