No one fits precisely into a cubby marked this, that or the other. No one. So why do we, much like hermit crabs, try to squeeze into one shell after another to see which one fits, to find the one in which we feel at home? We all do it, but for young Tunde Akinola there are so many shells, so many identities to try and nothing feels like home. In this coming of age novel, Tunde grows to be a “particular kind of black man”, a first generation African-American, born in the U.S. to Nigerian parents. But what is that?
Tunde begins school in Utah where he looks around and sees…..no one like himself. Utah is mostly white and Mormon. What, then, is he? His mother develops mental illness and returns to Nigeria, leaving Tunde and his brother with their father, hard-working, deeply religious and now a single parent. Enter a Nigerian-born step-mother and her two Nigerian-born sons, a family blended in name only. His Nigerian grandmother, a voice on the phone, is a constant and steadying influence, but he never meets her face to face.
Small town Utah, next small town Texas, then Dallas, college in Atlanta and Maine, on to D.C. Son, brother, Nigerian, black, white, juju, pop, Western, Southern, small towns, rural, hip-hop, urban, New England, American, male. How does a wide-eyed child born into this kaleidoscope find his way, navigate, come to grips…….when, more often than not, exploration is squelched, and welcome is never guaranteed? And how does one such child grow with assurance into the kind of man he is to become? What will the essence of this man be? Tope Folarin’s book is not a “how to”. It is simply the story of Tunde growing up, but it is revelatory, and, I believe, will leave you changed. A recommended read.
In bookstores everywhere on August 6 from Simon & Schuster. Shop your local indie bookstore here.
Full Disclosure: A review copy of this book was provided to me by Simon & Schuster via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. I would like to thank the publisher, the author and NetGalley for providing me this opportunity. All opinions expressed herein are my own.