This book offers a contrast in the lives of two Nigerian sisters, daughters of a physically and mentally abusive mother. Their stories are shared in alternating chapters. Cheta is the older sister and bears the brunt of her mother’s anger. She’s headstrong and defiant and refuses to be cowed which infuriates her mother further. On the other hand, the abuse rarely targets Zam as she tries to be obedient and inoffensive toward others. Cheta perceives her sister as the cherished daughter which only fuels her feelings of persecution. She’s tormented when outshined by her younger sister although she’s quick to come to Zam’s defense. Zam slowly learns to deal with her severe anxiety and her transformation as a developing woman is remarkable.
The Nigerian family culture depicted in the story is quite different from what readers may be used to. Strict discipline is enforced by many parents and they are not to be questioned or defied. A cousin is brutally beaten by her father in the opening chapter while other adults watch. Some of them are uncomfortable with the assault but no one tries to intervene. Cheta once slapped her mother in retaliation so she’s now forced to dodge knives, pots, and other objects flung at her. Men are viewed as the dominant gender although women seem to have inner disgust toward them. A wealthy uncle and aunt are publicly revered, and secretly despised, and life in their gated mansion is quite different from Zam’s humble home. An independent-thinking housemate becomes a close friend and mentor as Zam learns to survive life’s challenges.
Obviously, this book addresses mental and emotional health. Cheta has the larger challenge due to her lack of support from her parents. Her mother is the source of her anguish and her father is withdrawn and rarely interacts with others. She has no money and lacks options to escape the situation. Seeking help from friends may land her in even more unsavory situations. Zam’s been suffering panic attacks for years but thinks she’s being punished by God and doesn’t deserve any help. Life with her aunt and uncle is better financially but the mansion is the scene of its own drama. Her cousin isn’t receptive to Zam’s presence and Zam’s actions around the mansion staff aren’t normal for family members. She feels guilt for leaving her sister behind and experiences additional stress after her mother’s phone calls. Each sister learns to cope with their emotions in different ways.
What didn’t work as well:
The tone of the story is pretty dreary especially when sharing Cheta’s life around her mother. Zam’s life living with her aunt and uncle is better but she still finds conflict within the mansion and is forced to deal with severe anxiety. The plot doesn’t have a clear goal in the first half of the book so it’s unclear where it’s headed. However, it becomes dual stories of survival although the sisters have drastically different roads to follow.
The Final Verdict:
This book doesn’t share an uplifting, inspiring story but it tells of the emotional battles faced by two sisters. They face contrasting challenges of poverty and wealth that will evoke a wide range of feelings from readers. I recommend you give the book a shot.