I finished this book today partly because I was interested in the ending, as I’d read many mixed reviews, and partly because I was just trying to get into the story and understand the characters.
This book is set in Lagos and predominantly written from the perspectives of the two main characters, Abike Johnson – an extremely rich Nigerian 17-year old girl – and Runner G – a poor ice-cream hawker, 18 years old, who Abike decides she wants to spend time with. Unbeknownst to her, Runner G’s family used to be wealthy but after the death of his father times became tough, his mother became depressed and he decided to work so his sister would not have to give up school and could provide them with some future hope.
It took me several chapters to get used to the fact that each chapter begins with Abike’s perspective in italics and then Runner G’s in normal type. It’s an interesting way of writing and on many occasions it worked, however it was overused and in my opinion it slowed the story down in places where the pace should have been faster: where I wanted it to pick and move on rather than slow down. It also meant the second half of the story was building up to an ending I felt I knew and was therefore predictable.
I don’t agree with the blurb and reviews that say this is a Romeo and Juliet story set in Africa. Abike is not an innocent teen and the harshness of Runner G’s life has not made him as savvy as perhaps he might be. The comparison to me is just a good selling point.
Onuzo was 21 when this book was published. She began it at 18. That is a real achievement and to be commended. However, I do feel that the quirkiness of the writing approach, ie telling the same thing from two perspectives, was possibly the intriguing selling point too. However, it just didn’t allow me to really get to know any character in particular. I feel no sympathy for Abike and Runner G just perplexes me. Where you think he is finally gaining ground on Abike’s games and manipulation, and the writer gives us information that encourages us to be sympathetic to our heroine, it just doesn’t come through.
I wanted to like this book so much. At times I felt like I was sitting in an air-conditioned car in the traffic, beckoning to a hawker for something to eat on my way home. It took me back to my life in Ghana and I liked that. I could not however recognise the kind of wealth that Abike’s family portrayed. It was too much. I have seen wealth in Ghana and taught the children of some very rich people but to me Abike’s wealth, specifically her house and family structure, just left me disbelieving. It was too far removed for me to feel like I could join her on any journey she might have. When she was in Runner G’s world, the busy, messy back streets of Lagos, I almost liked her and appreciated her take and effort, but then she’d go into her world and I didn’t want to know her anymore. This would have been fine if Runner G had shown a bit more of himself; but he was too simplistic and I just couldn’t sit with some of his dialogue and interactions with sub-characters, Aunty Precious and Mr T – an unnecessarily confusing character.
As I have done before, when I write a review that is not so favourable, I am going to put links to other reviews of people who did love the story. Because in the end, this is just my opinion. This is also proven by how many awards the book was shortlisted and long listed for in 2012 when it was published.
I will definitely look out for the next Onuzo book with interest and read it with enthusiasm.
Here are some links of just a few other reviews: