Two black London-based teen boys navigate the complexities of racism, class differences, and identity in this intricate coming-of-age tale.
Abu and Karl are twinlike in appearance, but their lives could not be more different. While Abu hails from a stable two-parent home, Karl’s family life is shrouded in mystery, so he spends most of his time as an adopted son within Abu’s family. Together, the boys survive bullies, being beaten up, discrimination, and discovering sexuality. Life for both teens changes irreparably when Karl finds a letter addressed to his mother from an uncle whom he never knew. After discovering that his father is alive and living in Port Harcourt, Nigeria, Karl leaves London with his uncle to visit Africa and discover his family and heritage. Popoola’s (Breach, 2016, etc.) novel has all the requisite threads for a completely engrossing book, but so much is crammed into its pages that the story feels like a mess of tangles rather than a neatly stitched product. The reader barely gets to know Karl before he is off to Africa—a decision so rushed that it is sapped of dramatic heft—and so reader investment in his problems suffers. The stream-of-consciousness narration jars the reader out of the narrative and prevents the characters from becoming fully formed people as opposed to character studies.
An ambitious novel that attempts to explore important subjects about race and identity in the modern world. (Fiction 14-18)