“There’s nothing like deep breaths after laughing that hard. Nothing in the world like a sore stomach for the right reasons.”
Stephen Chbosky wrote a simple masterpiece, perfect for surviving souls out there. Set in the nineties, this novel is written with a schoolboy innocence as the main character Charlie, writes diary like letters to a anonymous friend, chronicling his lonely high school debut and the demons that haunt his mind. He begins revealing truths about his friend whose recently died, recounting his shock and dismay at everyone’s continuance of their lives ever since.
With a genuine innocence about him, Charlie begins high school and meets a girl, Sam and a guy, Patrick. These smoking buddies welcome him in spite of his age, accepting each other despite all their flaws and secrets. Charlie falls in love with Sam, though she is uninterested and already in a relationship. His innocence is further highlighted as he promises that he loves Sam – so much, that he feels a gripping horror at even thinking about her in any bad way ever. Charlie is dramatic and timid, constantly crying about his life, but in that, there’s something so pure and endearing about him that you will fold to his woes.
“I don’t know if you’ve ever felt like that. That you wanted to sleep for a thousand years. Or just not exist. Or just not be aware that you do exist. Or something like that. I think wanting that is very morbid, but I want it when I get like this. That’s why I’m trying not to think. I just want it all to stop spinning.”
It’s clear that Charlie loves his family dearly. He misses his brother who’s away at college playing football. He has a close relationship with his loving mother who understands his ways wholeheartedly. She also the only one skilled in knowing how to deal with him when he’s in a very dark place. But most of all, he misses his Aunt who died in a terrible accident. This is revealed in a interesting way.
Charlie’s friends become his life so much so that, when they’re not around, he finds it hard to breathe. When they argue, he falls apart and will do anything to go back to how they were. Charlie also experiences drugs, music, girls and books. His English teacher becomes inspirational as he realizes Charlie’s potential in writing and provides him with advanced books to read.
The simplicity of this book reveals Charlies state of mind and how he deals with his feelings in a childlike manner. With many turns of events and life changing moments, this is a book which can be read over and over again. Chbosky’s writing is enticing and somewhat addictive, in that he sets the scene as if you were present in the nineties. If anything, you won’t feel like a wallflower. You will feel like you’re driving fast, listening to cassette tapes and feeling infinite.
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s brilliant novel ‘Americanah’ (2013) reflects an unbelievable life journey, highly capable of impressing readers with its unending and satisfying chain of events. Adichie’s manner fearlessly tackles major topics of oppression, race and identity as well as the principal themes of love and culture. ‘Americanah’ is unlike other mainstream fiction of its kind simply due to its brash portrayal, deep rooted honesty and African flavour.
Adichie introduces brazen main characters Obinze and Ifemelu, two strangers who meet and soon create a deep mutual romantic love and bond that readers will grow to dote on. Ifemelu is a strong protagonist, direct and unassuming that we as readers should in any way understand her life and most importantly her Nigerian culture and her blackness. The writer leads us through her mind anticipating Ifemelu’s motives, at times, encouraging us to sympathize even.
At the start of the novel, the politics of black hair is very much alive as Ifemelu describes visiting a hair salon to get her hair braided. After disagreeing with the Senegalese hairdresser that she does not need a relaxer to soften her hair to fit in, the hairdresser offers a compliment on the improvement of Nollywood films lately, expecting Ifemelu to understand, speaking to her as if she is the sole person accountable for the Nigerian film industry.
‘‘She nodded in agreement because to hear ‘Nigeria’ and ‘good’ in the same sentence was a luxury.’’
The start of the book reinforces the irony that Ifemelu has become her own worst nightmare, as she strolls through New Haven, Princeton University. She begins to understand that you still cannot be a black African in America, not the way Ifemelu arrived. You must morph into an African American. This story is surprisingly refreshing with an incredible balance between the harsh difficulties in both characters’ lives, intertwined with the recurrent love story peeking through the blinds. The integral theme throughout is the importance of culture and remembering who you are, wherever one resides.
The other main character Obinze on the other hand is a rarity. He’s a charming and educated young man, who reveals a sensitivity one can only spot as a fly on the wall or maybe weaved into Adichie’s prose. He exudes a warmth and romance through his interests and ideals, yet eventually turns into almost the opposite person he intended to be. Both characters long to leave their small homes in search of a big dream and we completely understand. They become each other’s backbone through Lagos school, holding tight to big dreams of a visa and a life altering move to America.
“She rested her head against his and felt, for the first time, what she would often feel with him: a self-affection. He made her like herself. With him, she was at ease; her skin felt as though it was her right size.. It seemed so natural, to talk to him about odd things. She had never done that before. The trust, so sudden and yet so complete, and the intimacy, frightened her.. But now she could think only of all the things she yet wanted to tell him, wanted to do with him.”
Obinze is inspired by his mother to read books and so he buries his head in American novels which sustain him through the years. Nevertheless, the dream is and always has been leaving home and boasting that they’ll each soon have a glowing shiny visa stamped in their passports. However, when Ifemelu is presented the opportunity to flee and study first, she promises to wait and has no choice but to leave Obinze behind. Years later, Obinze’s opportunity to change his life leaves him with England as his only option where he attempts to find solace unhappily without Ifemelu by his side. Both characters lives take unexpected turns, changing both of them forever. The couple lose touch and begin to think their journey is over.
“The only reason you say that race was not an issue is because you wish it was not. We all wish it was not. But it’s a lie. I came from a country where race was not an issue; I did not think of myself as black and I only became black when I came to America. When you are black in America and you fall in love with a white person, race doesn’t matter when you’re alone together because it’s just you and your love. ”
Obinze struggles in the UK financially and meets up with friends from Nigeria, back home, friends who have established themselves in English society; they’ve married English now and are sporting new accents. He can’t begin to understand how this much change has taken place, how the cultural differences leave him itching to argue during dinner parties where they eat on ‘ethnic plates’ alongside his old friends and new acquaintances. Obinze struggles with controversial conversations with these people who discuss ‘foreignness’ like a disease and he’s instantly infuriated. The character becomes a lone wolf and faces many hardships in England. Eventually, Obinze is forced to return to Lagos by the English authorities who catch him in a desperate act to stay in the country with no official paperwork.
Ifemelu also struggles terribly when she first gets to America. With a thick accent and no chance of getting a part time job, she slowly sinks into a depression which is maximised as she begins contemplating and eventually partaking in a sexual favour for money. Eventually, Ifemelu represses those memories finding a respectable escape as a babysitter for a caucasian family who feel a need to discuss Africa or African women whenever she is in the room. Adichie introduces Curt and Blaine (new men in Ifemelu’s life) which allows her to fasten Ifemelu to a pedestal as the token black girlfriend. Short hair, dark skin; a foreign beauty.
“When it comes to dressing well, American culture is so self-fulfilled that it has not only disregarded this courtesy of self-presentation, but has turned that disregard into a virtue. “We are too superior/busy/cool/not-uptight to bother about how we look to other people, and so we can wear pajamas to school and underwear to the mall.”
From arrival in America to her departure, Ifemelu battles the weighty topic of race relations. Race is achingly relevant as Ifemelu eventually creates a blog where she constantly vents about race in America through her Nigerian eyes and she eventually makes enough money to stop working.
Adichie reinforces the importance of family as she paints Aunt Uju and Dikes story, reinforcing cultural acceptance when moving to the west. The story suggests America is like a uncle who spoils children. Cousin Dikes suicidal episode reinforces the stigma of not seeing the signs of turning western so to speak, or simply the shock of how dare a Nigerian child even view suicide as an option?
“I realized that if I ever have children, I don’t want them to have American childhoods. I don’t want them to say ‘Hi’ to adults I want them to say ‘Good morning’ and ‘Good afternoon’. I don’t want them to mumble ‘Good’ when someone says ‘How are you?’ to them. Or to raise five fingers when asked how old they are. I want them to say ‘I’m fine thank you’ and ‘I’m five years old’. I don’t want a child who feeds on praise and expects a star for effort and talks back to adults in the name of self-expression. Is that terribly conservative?”
The position of Nigerian women and relationships they partake in is a huge topic in the last third of this novel too. The give and take notion whereby Nigerian women stay in unhappy relationships so their men can pay for everything, is reinforced when Ifemelu exposes her friend’s relationship. Ifemelu’s eventual return to Nigeria is intriguing as she does not so much adjust to life in Nigeria, but slips back into routine, although even she learns to accept that though she has changed, Nigeria has changed a great deal too.
Obinze becomes a rich and popular man, married even and this is where the story becomes light hearted while birthing a major cliff-hanger. By the end of this novel, the importance of Americanah is startling. Adichie cleverly critiques society’s stupidity but also cultural foolishness. This is a racially charged novel but a extremely relevant one nonetheless. Adichie writes impressively, challenging culture and loving it in the same breathe. Even at points when readers try to predict what will happen, she shocks and delivers. Adichie did not seek out to create a hero and heroine, rather she tries to bravely evoke love and the realistic truth she has lived. There is a truth to this book that will make you ache.
“I lived in New York for eleven and a half years and I don’t think anybody ever asked me about my religion. I never even thought about it. Now, all of a sudden, it was the big thing in my life.” – Are you there God? It’s Me, Margaret.
The queen of children novels, Judy Blume, encompasses a rare ability to write classic books for years to come. As teens, we had expectations of her to teach us the truth about things that no one else would, and this revealed an obvious reliance never before presented to other authors; a social responsibility Blume clearly took seriously. Many of you have read her gripping, almost addictive and quite memorable stories as a child, myself included. Tales of divorce, losing a parent, snooping neighbours and first bras aided young children to believe that yes, maybe there was an adult out there who understood all our problems. Puberty and its dark shadows on a young child’s life was nowhere near fun, yet Blume’s many individual and intriguing characters, proved that her characters lived through what we lived through. They shared our joys and pain, and her stories proved to be a revelation in the eyes of the youth. Her gift of making almost depressing topics, engaging to a young reader, prompted her excellent ability to tackle themes of religion, American politics and racial tension as well as other topics like socialising, sibling rivalry and puppy love. Judy began her career in the in 1966, whereby after graduating from New York University, she received a B.A in education. She began with several picture books for young children in the early days and in 1972 found her big break when “Tales Of A Fourth Grade Nothing” (1972) was published. Initially this story was intended to be called “Peter, Fudge and Dribble” and had a different plot to the final story, but as time went on Blume decided to base Fudge on her own child and the New York City lifestyle of her memories of a close friend’s family life.
“Sometimes life in the Hatcher household is enough to make twelve-year-old Peter think about running away. His worst problem is still his younger brother, Fudge.”
In 1980 one of the most popular and my personal favourite Judy Blume book “Superfudge” was published. I can remember purchasing it from a book shop when I was in Year 4 in primary school. My teacher had picked it out for me and I loved that the cover was bright orange with three intriguing characters on the front; two boys and a baby girl. Surprisingly Blume claimed “I remember exactly where I was when the idea finally came to me—in the shower, covered with soap and shampoo. And the idea seemed so simple I couldn’t believe it had taken seven years. I would give the Hatchers a new baby.” Baby Tootsie the new member of the family causes friction when Peter, the oldest son, is unhappy that a new edition to the family will arrive soon and that they’re all moving home to compensate for his parent’s dream careers. Blume has many other books, spin off of the Hatcher family and they’re friends. These include “Otherwise Known as Sheila the Great” (1972), “Fudge-a-mania”(1990) and “Double Fudge” (2002).
Blume has also published a string of highly influential, if not controversial novels, which are very much cherished by fans still today. Iggie’s House (1970) was different to the Superfudge series in that it was not too focused on young children, rather was classified as a young adult novel. It deals with the topic of racism in the late 1960’s where Blume herself commented that “the late sixties was a turbulent time in America. Racial tensions were high, especially following the assassination of Martin Luther King. The ongoing fight for racial equality affected all of us, one way or another.” The main character Winnie’s fascination with the new black family next door, allows her to quickly become friends with them. However, her own family’s disapproval of her new friends is disheartening as the story takes a turn for the worst. Blubber (1974) deals with bullying in school, a common and relatable topic, whereas the next novel by Blume called “Starring Sally J. Freedman as Herself” (1977) was an autobiographical novel whereby Blume concealed herself in this character wearing a colourful dress, reliving her past as a Jew throughout the war.
“Suppose there aren’t any more A + days once you get to be twelve? Wouldn’t that be something! To spend the rest of your life looking for an A + day and not finding it.” – It’s Not the End of the World (1972)
“It’s Not the End of the World” (1972) chronicled a marriage falling apart at the seams whilst the story is told from the point of view of a young girl named Karen. Her parents constant fighting leads her to lose faith in love and marriage, as does her hope for her favourite teacher’s marriage lasting, instead believing it has made her evil. Her parent’s quick decision toward divorce, causes her to do anything in her power to make them stay together, even if that means pretending to be ill.
The controversial topic of religion is tackled in “Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret.” (1970) and follows a young girls search for a religion in the confusion of her Jewish/Christian family. She often talks to God, and begins her prayers with ‘‘are you there God?” Her pre-teen concerns are a main factor of this novel, however throughout there remains a fierce confusion between two faiths, which causes conflict in Margaret’s family, making her angry at times. This I believe to be a poignant novel in Blume’s career, due to its popularity, but also its subject matter.
”Who says March is supposed to come in like a lion and go out like a lamb? That’s a lot of bull. All it’s done this March is rain. I’m sick of it.” –Then Again, Maybe I Won’t (1971)
“Then Again, Maybe I Won’t” (1971) was a different spin on earlier Blume novels, because the point of view changed. It was the adolescent voice and life of a teenage boy. Blume’s success from “Are You There God? It’s me, Margaret” was the catalyst for this pleasant surprise. Tony and his family move to a new town due to his father’s promotion, and his family’s abrupt changes being to annoy Tony. He keeps all his emotions inside, causing him emotional anguish and pain. The false pretence of people in his life, he views as fake, and so he searches for reality through his binoculars, into his neighbour’s bedroom window, where he soon becomes known as a peeping tom.
“When Deenie sees the brace for the first time, she wants to scream, Forget it…I’m never going to wear that thing! But the words won’t come out. And beautiful Deenie, who everyone says should be a model, is stuck wearing a brace from her neck to her hips.” – Deenie (1973)
Deenie (1973) deals with a young girl of the name Wilmadeene, nickname Deenie who suffers with Scoliosis but also has big dreams of becoming a model. When the doctor diagnoses her with Scoliosis and she has to wear a brace for her condition, the four year wait to take it off, begins to take a toll on her. Her decision to ditch modelling and become a Orthopaedist is not taken lightly by her pushy mother.
”Now, besides being best friends we’ll also be neighbours. And moving just a few blocks away really isn’t like moving at all. I think the only reason we moved is that our house needed a new roof and Mom and Dad just about passed out when they learned what it would cost.” – Just as long as we’re together (1987)
My personal favourite “Just As Long As We’re Together” (1987) deals with the teenage melodramatic reaction of a teenage girl who is moving home, dealing with new friends, compulsive liars, a new school, and boys. Stephanie Hirsch is living with her family in a new home in Palfrey’s Pond, Connecticut and deals with an array of ups and downs with her two best friends, Rachel and new girl Alison. On a more serious note, this novel highlights the fears children have about their families and their future well-being. Divorce plays a large role here, as well as the strength of friendship and trust. In a spin off story, ”Here’s to you Rachel Robinson” (1993), best friend Rachel Robinson is a straight-A student. She practices the flute 45 minutes a day and strives for perfection in everything she does. But she grinds her teeth at night and dreads dinnertime, now that her troublemaking older brother, Charles, has been thrown out of boarding school and is now back home, acting up to get attention as usual. Her resentment for him is clear, and his attempt at breaking the family apart is obvious too. Counselling and a trip to Ellis Island, New York may put the family back together, or it may tear them apart.
Other popular Judy Blume novels include “Tiger Eyes” (1981), “Forever” (1975), and many more young adult novels dealing with similar themes. Blume’s simple yet fascinating writing style encapsulates even adults today who have read her novels in the past. “Letters to Judy. What your kids Wish They Could Tell You” (1986) revealed secrets and opinions from Blume’s readers, in an attempt for parents to walk in their children’s shoes. It contained thousands of letters sent by fans, pouring their hearts out to their favourite author revealing her very profound effect on many lives.