Source: DRC via NetGalley (Atria Books) in exchange for an honest review
Pub. Date: May 24, 2022
Why did I choose to read this book?
My answer to this one is complicated this time. I am finishing one of the most difficult school years I’ve ever taught through; I feel so dead inside that I’m not sure how I’ll bring it all back to life again. I’m tired, but not the normal kind of tired. There’s a word that hasn’t even been invented yet that would describe how my entire being feels in this moment, after everything, just going through the motions with this weight heavy over my entire soul. I know that sounds over dramatic, but it’s real.
So when the very first line that describes this book said “Feyi Adekola wants to learn how to be alive again,” Akwaeke Emezi had me. Maybe if I read this book about this woman’s journey, I could unlock something in myself that could have the chance to regrow into something different but alive. What would that look like? I was excited to find out.
What is this book about?
Feyi lost her husband in a car accident 5 years prior and has decided to try to re-enter the dating scene. Her journey from a friend with benefits to a caring partner to rediscovering her own desire and learning to live again is where this book will take you. Emezi’s story is marketed as a romance novel, and I suppose it is given how much relationships and physical intimacy play a role, but I think that this story is about Feyi honoring her love for the husband she lost, opening her heart to the possibility of new love, but most importantly she’s learning how to fall in love with herself and her own experiences again.
What is notable about the story?
The language Emezi uses to describe everything is so lush and decadent. Your senses will be engaged throughout this novel and I absolutely love that. I can see the tropical birds, smell the spices and busy city streets, I can taste the foods; all because the story is written beautifully.
Its exploration of grief is also beautiful. There were a few sentences that really hit me about halfway through the book:
Those were moments that broke timelines, that cut them so deep and so bloody that they would never stitch back together again, that they life before the cut was as dead as the person who was lost. Just memories through a haze of hurt.
Recognizing how to move forward from events that knock you completely off course, away from anything you every would have imagined for yourself, is something that is very difficult to do, and I speak from multiple experiences. It’s complicated and terrible and you’re always haunted by the other timelines. The best you can hope for is to learn to live with the ghosts and move forward on whatever timeline you ended up on.
Part of this also is the imposter syndrome that Feyi struggles with as her art gains more and more attention. When you remake your life and go in another direction when you thought you would be elsewhere, it is natural to feel like you do not belong, that you didn’t get there by your own merits, that you are a charity case among stars and soon you will be discovered and thrown out, onto yet another timeline where you must recover and rebuild. The strength to know that you belong where you are because you are you and you worked hard and smart and any other combination of things to be in that moment is something that must be built as well – the strength to demand to take up space because you are worthy. This journey spoke to me so loudly that had points I had to set the book down and take some deep breaths.
The line that made me cry, that hit me deepest though, was:
She wanted to be someone she could recognize.
I could try to describe this, but then this would turn into a personal essay and not a book review. All I’ll say about this at the moment is that if you know, then you know. And it’s devastatingly heartbreaking.
Was anything not so great?
Honestly this book was a straight up banger. No notes. Everything Emezi was trying to say with this story needed all the elements present in order to deliver those messages, and it’s done so exquisitely that there’s nothing to critique, really.
What’s the verdict?
5 stars on Goodreads, this is one of the most immersive stories I have ever read and it left me wanting more. I hope that there are many more stories left to be read by Akwaeke Emezi, because I will be first in line for as many more as they plan to write.
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