As you probably already know (because I never shut up about it), I am a semi-new but very enthusiastic member of the Book of the Month club. I’ve loved reading for as long as I can remember: I have vivid memories of the Book Fair coming to the library of St. Eleanor School, and being one of the few kids who spent their allotted “book money” on books, rather than the gel pens and fun-shaped erasers and Mad Libs-type accessories available at the fair. I was gifted the first 3 books of the Harry Potter series for my 9th birthday (thank you, Aunt Joyce and Uncle Hank!) and my love and obsession with reading has just grown from there.
In my BOTM Facebook groups (where you can swap/sell/buy BOTM picks from other members, aka where I spend entirely too much time and I’m not sorry), I kept seeing this book, The Girl with the Louding Voice by Abi Daré–a 2020 BOTY finalist–pop up. I’m typically a pretty strictly fiction/mystery/thriller genre kind of girl, but I will hop on the bandwagon for any book that gets this kind of enthusiasm from readers.
Summary: The book takes place in a poor village called Ikati in Nigeria, and our main character is a fourteen year old girl named Adunni. Adunni dreams of getting an education so she can become a teacher, and give opportunities to young Nigerian girls like herself. Adunni’s mother taught her the value of education, and that getting her education is the only way to get a “louding voice”—the ability to speak for herself and decide her future.
Unfortunately, her mother dies of an illness and her father does not value education as her mother did. He arranges for Adunni to be married (to a much, much older man) so that her bride price (the money her future husband will give her father in exchange for his blessing of their marriage) will pay their rent, buy them food…and a new TV. With the arrangement of her marriage (which is customary in her culture, even at her age) Adunni’s dreams of getting an education are derailed
Adunni becomes the third wife of Morufu, and it is her duty to bear her husband a son and an heir, despite Adunni being just a child herself. Adunni is stripped of her innocence and subjected to her husband’s violent sexual appetite, fueled by the desire for a male heir, over and over again. While Labake, her husband’s first wife, despises and resents Adunni and openly threatens her, she forges a strong bond with the second wife, Khadija. Adunni’s relationship with Khadija is very mother-daughter like, despite Khadija being only a few years older than Adunni. Her friendship with Khadija is the one positive thing in her new, married life.
When tragedy strikes and a series of unfortunate events leaves Khadija gone and Adunni to blame, Adunni knows she will be killed for a crime she did not commit. She feels she has no choice but to flee Ikati, and she ends up in the bustling, large city of Lagos where she is (unknowingly) sold into slavery, working as a housemaid for a very wealthy woman named Big Madam. While working for Big Madam–who beats her every day–Adunni never stops dreaming of getting her education. She meets another wealthy neighbor named Tia, who is unlike the other wealthy Nigerian women Big Madam surrounds herself with. Tia and Adunni form a strong bond in secret–another mother/daughter type relationship for Adunni–and together, they formulate a plan for Adunni to apply for a scholarship contest to get her education.
Now, for the review.
The Setting: Abi Daré, who grew up in Lagos, did a beautiful job describing the landscape of poverty-stricken Nigeria. The details and descriptions of the compounds Adunni lives in made me feel as if I were there, walking barefoot along the dirt floors of Adunni’s small, 2-room family home.
The Characters: Adunni is a strong, determined, and fierce young woman, despite the adversity she faces. From her poor upbringing, to her father’s disdain for her education, her country’s issue of inequality for her gender, and the chains she wears as a wife and then slave, Adunni faces obstacle after obstacle after obstacle in this book. Every time she would catch a small break, I would breathe a small sigh of relief…only for her to meet another impossible situation. Despite the odds being stacked against her from birth, Adunni never stops fighting for her education. Her goal is to break free from the constraints of Nigeria’s gender inequality so she can become a teacher, and help young women like herself get education more easily. Adunni’s spirit and endless optimism are infectious.
I also loved the character of Kofi, the chef who works alongside Adunni while working for Big Madam. Kofi is a Ghanian, saving up to build a home for his wife and children back in Ghana. He is a realist, and from the moment Adunni arrives at Big Madam’s home, he tells her what to do and what not to do to avoid trouble. He looks out for her as best he can (without getting into trouble himself; he is a paid chef for Big Madam, unlike Adunni, whose wages are sent to the man who sold her to Big Madam).
Then there is Tia. She is the strong-willed, educated, determined heroine that Adunni needs to help her stay on track to get her education. One thing I kept wishing for was for Tia to just take Adunni to live with her. She knew Big Madam didn’t feed Adunni and abused her, and I kept wishing for Tia to just take her away.
Did the story have depth? This was the second deepest book I read in 2020 (followed only by All the Ugly and Wonderful Things, which will forever be one of my all-time favorite books. Review to come!) This novel touched on some serious issues (gender inequality, politics, slavery) and was historically accurate as well. It doesn’t get much deeper than that.
Conclusion: The Girl with the Louding Voice got 4 out of 5 stars for me. For a debut novel, Abi Daré exceeded my expectations for this book. You know how sometimes you hear such rave reviews of a book, and then you finally cave and read it, and it disappoints you so that you never want to follow the hype again? This was not one of those books. I would recommend this as a not-so-light read (it is written in dialect, so it took me a few chapters to really understand what Adunni was saying/thinking). I look forward to reading Abi Daré’s future novels!