The Teller of Secrets by Bisi Adjapon

The Teller of Secrets

The Teller of Secrets by Bisi Adjapon

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I love historical fiction! However, sometimes historical fiction can be a bit heavy and overwhelming, especially when race, patriarchy, societal pressures, and class issues are involved. However, historical fiction has my heart, and I’m deeply moved by this genre in particular. The Teller of Secrets is no different.

This book was mighty, overwhelming, filled with societal issues, and toxic patriarchy in post-colonial Africa. When I read the last page of this book, all I could say was “wow!” I had stayed up all night to finish this book because I just couldn’t put it down. I didn’t want the story to end, and I could have read about Esi forever!

This book is a coming-of-age story about a young girl named Esi, who is half Nigerian and Ghanian. Right away, when you meet Esi, you are intrigued at her curiosity, her determination, and her tenacity. She may be little, but she is fierce. She has an aggressive self-determination about being her own person, and not letting men, in particular, dictate what she can or cannot do. She believes at an early age that girls/women can do anything they put their hearts and mind to, and doesn’t need to shy away from hard work because she’s a female. She pushes back on hypocrisy, questioning the double standards that men live by in her country, and is aggressively self-determined to live her life on her terms.

I loved that Esi was a fully fleshed out character, who had flaws, who grew and matured, who didn’t always have the best examples or experiences, but persisted anyway to make the best of her situations. As the favorite daughter of her father, Esi is viewed as spoiled by her older siblings and often detested and treated badly by her sisters and stepmother. Her father dotes on her, and goes out of his way to ensure she doesn’t want for anything, which angers and provokes her sisters. Esi knows that she is treated differently, but tries to advocate for her sisters/people/anyone who is not given a fair shake, or treated appropriately. Despite growing up motherless, Esi wants to make her family proud, but also doesn’t want to compromise herself or her values for anyone. However, despite what she knows about herself and what she wants, she faces an uphill battle in the toxic patriarchal societies of Ghana and Nigeria.

As she comes into her own, she understands the complexities that come with being a young adult, being a woman, and also trying to make a name for herself when everything is telling her it’s pointless.

There were many themes expressed in this book that make for great discussion:
– Feminism
– Patriarchal hypocrisy
– Toxic masculinity
– Education
– Womanhood
– Sexuality & exploration
– Identity
– Adulthood
– Family ties
– Culture & tradition
– Classism
– Political unrest
– Gender equality

Adjapon creates this world in which Esi lives in such vivid pictures that I could imagine all the sights and sounds that Esi encountered. The way Adjapon writes, allows you to really sink into Esi, and her story, and allows you to feel what Esi feels. As a reader, I was frustrated at times with Esi and her decisions, but also rooting for her growth and maturity. I was saddened by the patriarchal toxicity she had to deal with in regards to the men in her life, to include her father. I was disappointed in the trajectory she took in certain situations she dealt with in her relationships she had with the men in her life. I was encouraged when she stood up for herself and how she pursued her education/dreams/aspirations/ideas despite having little to no support from her loved ones. I was furious at people who took advantage of her and her naiveté, and was desperate to see some retribution against them.

Reading books about growing up in Africa, especially as a young woman, seems to me to be harsh and violent. There is a delicate balance you have to portray at all times in order to be safe and well cared for. There is violence from the men and women in your family that you have to protect yourself from, and on top of all of that, you have to thrive in ways that doesn’t seem realistic because of the lack of support you have as a woman. You are expected to do all and be all to everyone at all times.

This book shares a host of complexities that women worldwide face on a regular basis, and Adjapon handled these topics with care and attention against the backdrop of political warfare and unrest in both Ghana and Nigeria. Very well done, and I can’t wait to read more from Bisi Adjapon in the future. Her coming of age story is most definitely welcomed in great company with books such as A Girl is a Body of Water by Jennifer Makumbi and The Girl With the Louding Voice by Abi Daré, which both have self-determined MCs who buck against the patriarchy in their own way.

I greatly enjoyed this debut novel, and Bisi Adjapon has gained a new fan! 4.5 stars.

TW: abortion, genital trauma, sexual partner abuse, execution style killing

Thank you to Harper Collins and the author Bisi Adjapon for this book in exchange for a fair and honest review. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

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Bad Fat Black Girl by Sesali Bowen

Bad Fat Black Girl: Notes from a Trap Feminist

Bad Fat Black Girl: Notes from a Trap Feminist by Sesali Bowen

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Listening to this book was one of the best decisions I’ve made. Although I probably could have physically read this book quickly, listening to the author read her own work was quite amazing.

After having read Feminist AF by the Crunk Collective, who’s backdrop of feminism is against 90s hip-hop, Sesali Bowen went in a similar direction, but towards trap music as her backdrop, which presents a whole ‘nother experience if you are familiar with trap music.

Hearing the author read her words and hearing her voice, tone, inflection, emphasis, etc., really brought this book to life for me and I was instantly able to connect with the content of her book in a wide open way. Especially seeing that I grew up in the hiphop and trap music era, surrounded by the Black American ghetto of Cleveland, OH.

Although Sesali Bowen focuses on being fat and Black while growing up under the backdrop of hiphop and trap music, Black women can especially relate to her and how our bodies are constantly policed and criticized for any and everything.

Bowen also explores sex work, feminism, Black queerness, classism, sexism, violence towards Black women, and how gender and race play a huge part in how society views Black women who are not the picture of perfection. I feel like this book is a love letter to Fat Black Badass Black women who can easily identify with Bowen, but also Black women who are not necessarily seen as “fat,” but the misogynoir that is directed towards Black women, I feel like we can all relate to. This is a love letter to all of us who grew up in the hood, who had to focus on survival vs being privileged enough to not have the same or similar issues with socioeconomic issues that people in the hood have to deal with.

Although Black people are not a monolith, I feel like we’ve all had similar experiences because we’ve all been forced into certain spaces and experiences because of our race, gender, socioeconomic status and education level. Another thing I related to with Bowen’s work was her ability to meet us all where we are, but has space for people to be who they are whether highly educated or struggling to make ends meet. Just because you came from the hood, doesn’t mean that you can’t politick and are not educated or have no skill set. We should be able to be who we are without policing our bodies, the way we speak and talk to others, the way we move through situations and handle our finances, and handle societal pressures with dignity and be proud of where you come from and your experiences that shaped and molded you to who you are today.

Bowen talks about trap music in detail and the lyrics that is diametrically opposed to certain issues within feminism. For example, how we can be called ‘bitches and hoes,’ in the music, but not be an actual bitch or hoe and still love the music, still love the attention men/people give you, or actually love being the ‘bitch or hoe’ and being successful in selling yourselves in order to get what we need to get. “We do what we have to, when we can’t do what we want to.” She also proclaims that she is ‘with all the shits and not one to try,” and I love that! Bowen’s work makes me feel aggressively self-determined, and I’m so glad her voice is here to give us another perspective of feminism that is focused on Black women/femmes who has been left out of conversations because they don’t fit the ideal picture of what the society feels is the norm.

I am a trap feminist. I’m with all the shits and not one to try! Though I may be highly educated, I’m still from the hood and can come with it if tried on any given day. That is the magic about us, and especially Black women who are the most educated people in this world. We have to navigate so many spaces and places that we need this perspective to feel seen, heard, and acknowledged because though we may nod and pop our fingers to Megan Thee Stallion’s music, but we can also push our dissertations and handle job interviews, all while code-switching (or not), and check a bitch if necessary when we need to.

This book says to me: “Bitch, I gotchu!” Which is used as a term of endearment and a declaration of solidarity, all while processing how those words are often used to demean and belittle us, but can also be seen as a term of friendship, solidarity, and familiarity. I loved it!

5 stars!

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What to Do with These Red Flags by Martika Shanel

What to Do with These Red Flags: Unlocking Healthy Relationships from the Pennants Within

What to Do with These Red Flags: Unlocking Healthy Relationships from the Pennants Within by Martika Shanel

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

So this book is a definite need for young people who desire healthy relationships with partners, friends, family, etc. However, this book is not just for young people, but for anyone who desires healthy partnerships. In my personal lived experience, this book would have been a great addition in my early 20s when I wanted to have more serious relationships with people of the opposite sex, and how to discern a friend from a frenemy. As you mature in life through experiences, you learn that not every person you date is the same, or have the same maturity, background, life experience, etc. People are complex humans, and not everyone has the same interest or motive when embarking in a relationship. This book helps to educate you on what red flags to look for in others as well as what to work on with yourself. Everyone has red flags, and no one is immune from being tricked or handled in a way that makes you second guess yourself. As an adult, one has to learn from previous relationships, self-inflicted mistakes, self-internalized junk, bad decision making, and just all around naiveté.

Martika Shanel explains what red flags are, how to be more discerning in discovering red flags in others, and how to do some internal work to combat your own red flags. This book is extremely helpful to those who haven’t been in a relationship yet because you can get a jump start on identifying red flags in people that you meet or want a relationship with. However, this book is also helpful for those of us who’ve been in relationships previously and do not want to make the same mistakes twice.

Shanel is forthcoming about her previous and past experiences in relationships and talks about some of her own mistakes in not seeing the red flags in relationships until it was too late. She encourages her readers to do their own self-introspective reflection on how/what they bring to the table in relationships, how to have a process in uncovering your own red flags, and also what to do in confronting the red flags in people you are in a relationship with.

The book is engaging and interactive with sections of the book that allow for personal self-reflection, making lists, doing a deep dive into the red flags and how they have developed, and what to do to correct, let go, and even be at peace with some relational issues. Shanel also encourages her readers to simply invest in oneself. You have to be an advocate for you because no one else will. You have to demand the respect that you so rightly deserve, but also be willing to let go of harmful, hateful, disrespectful relationships that don’t serve you.

Whether you are single, young, older, in a relationship, dating, or married, this book is for you. No matter where you are in life, red flags are something that should be dealt with in any capacity. You can use this book to help in navigating jobs, contracts, friendships, family members, therapy sessions, casual acquaintances, etc. There is so much to learn about self and others while reading this book, that I definitely would recommend this book to everyone to read or pass on to someone else who may need some guidance in helping to live your best life with other people in your circle.

I would definitely recommend this book first to young women, especially 16/17 year olds who are desiring boyfriends and partners. However, even more so I’d recommend this book to college age women who are looking for those forever relationships, between men and women alike. Lastly, I’d encourage married people to pick up this book, as it can help couples do some self-evaluation, healing, and to help identify red flags in the relationship to move them along to healthier conversations and interactions and farther away from repetitive trauma. Though this book is not just for women, relationships and identifying red flags are primarily put on women to identify these issues the most because of our patriarchal society. Being able to identify red flags helps to promote safety in vulnerable people groups so as to not be taken advantage of and demoralized in any capacity. However, as more people become sensitive to their partner’s needs, this book would be extremely helpful in identifying interpersonal areas that can greatly improve the inner workings of personal relationships for the greater good of all involved.

Definitely passing this book on to my children as they grow into adulthood because sometimes it just sounds better when it comes from someone else. Ha! Overall, 5 stars.

Thank you to the author Martika Shanel, who gifted me this book in exchange for a fair and honest opinion. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

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The Between by Tananarive Due

The Between: A Novel

The Between: A Novel by Tananarive Due

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Initial reaction: This book is like a shiny old school car that you admire as it drives by and you just want to ride in it and touch the buttery soft leather interior. It is a beaut!! This is what this book was for me. Gorgeous writing!! OMG!! I’m fangirling over some writing, okkk!!

This book is about a man named Hilton, who as a little boy, experienced 2 extremely stressful situations. Most notably, he experienced a near-death experience, where his grandmother saved his life. In turn, she dies saving him, and now, Hilton believes, the universe is hellbent on making him pay for escaping death when he was a kid. In addition, his wife has received death threats from a white supremacist who is out to get the first Black appointed judge from continuing her career. Hilton then becomes obsessed with protecting his family from these racist attacks, while trying to figure out what is going on with his mental health.

There is an unbelievable amount of tension that is at work in Due’s words, that magically pulls you through this book with deftness and curiosity. Due has impeccable writing!! Flawless! You hear me?! Perfect writing! She leaves nothing out! This story gripped me from the very beginning and did not let me go until the end. I consumed this book in 2 days, and I didn’t want it to end at all. Her character development led me to believe that all her characters were real! They were so well-developed, that you can’t tell me these characters don’t exist.

Due talks about a wealth of topics here so superbly that I cannot write a review that would do this book justice. You just have to read it!

She talks about:
– Racial hostility towards Black people (police sanctioned violence towards Black boys specifically)
– White supremacy and terrorism
– Hate crimes
– Black family structure
– Mental health illness (specifically Schizophrenia and stigmas)
– Grief
– Death
– Marriage
– Importance of police living in neighborhoods they serve (Black policemen)
– Dreams and interpretations vs. superstitions

I had slept on Tananarive Due for awhile now. I’ve had her book, My Soul to Keep for such a long time that now after reading The Between, I will be reading her other book. I’m ashamed at myself for waiting this long to read her work.

This book completely dissolves the line between fantasy and reality, and Due does so in such a way that as a reader, you become lost and question what’s real and what’s not in this book as you go along. Her plot twists, and tense action/thriller scenes make for a great read. Very compelling read, and the writing keeps you guessing to the very end while keeping you on pins and needles all the way through this book.

Awesome awesome awesome!! 5 stars.

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Black Under by Ashanti Anderson

Black Under

Black Under by Ashanti Anderson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

You might not be ready for this book, cause I know I wasn’t. However, it’s here and this book is not going anywhere. Ashanti Anderson has done a truly remarkable job here. In a short book of 30 pages she has blown my mind. She is a master storyteller, phenomenal linguist, and artful creator in her wordsmithing. You cannot categorize her work. She cannot be fit into a box, and will likely shoot out of a cannon if you try to manipulate and mold her work into something it’s not.

This book, Black Under, defies what poetry is supposed to look like, what it’s supposed to read like; how it’s supposed to make you feel.

Her metaphors are rapturous, and makes me want to live in her words forever. She is unflinching and unapologetic as she digs deep into our history. We are Black AF, and Black Under, and she demands everyone to know as such.

Some poems that will forever be etched in my mind are:
– Ode to Black Skin
– Slave Ship Haibun
– The Body Recalls
– Answer to an Earnest Prayer

Poetry is very subjective. Though these poems may not fit for many, you cannot deny the genius of Anderson’s words. Her words go within. Under your skin. Taking hold to every captive thought. This collection deserves all the attention and praise. Very well done.

Thank you to the author Ashanti Anderson, and Nanda at Coriolis, and Black Lawrence Press for this amazing collection and I cannot wait to hear more from Ashanti Anderson.

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