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Highlights in the Charts

Blessings by Chukwuebuka Ibeh

Reviewed by Arabella Petts

Blessings is the tale of a young Nigerian boy, Obiefuna, who is caught by his conservative father in an intimate moment with another man. With his father’s suspicions and worst nightmares coming true, he sends Obiefuna to get straightened out in a strict Christian boarding school, giving his mother, Uzoamaka, no explanation as to why.

Now completely alienated from the people he loves, Obiefuna begins a journey of self-discovery, meeting a whole band of characters along the way who help him come to terms with his identity.

This is another debut novel and another one of my favourites of the year thus far. The prose is absolutely stunning, with a lyrical tone that reminded me of Caleb Azumah Nelson’s writing. It’s hard to believe that the author is writing with such literary finesse at the age of twenty-two, but it makes me incredibly excited for his future projects.

Upon beginning the novel, we are immediately introduced to the central theme: a young boy struggling to fit into a society in which masculinity is rigid and signs of non-conformism are often met with brutality. In the opening of the story, after dancing freely at a party, Obiefuna’s father beats him, asking, “Are you a woman in a man’s skin?” This sets us up for the rest of the novel, giving us an understanding of what to expect from each character.

The following chapters alternate between Obiefuna’s experiences throughout his school years and Uzoamaka’s struggles with her son’s absence, reminiscing about both her own and her son’s childhoods. I found Obiefuna’s chapters to be much more exciting, hearing about the secret scandals that happen at a strict boarding school, but Uzoamaka’s chapters were filled with emotion and pulled at the heartstrings.

What makes this book stand out as a queer novel is the political undertones; not only is homosexuality hated, but it is also criminalised, adding a pressing risk to every action Obiefuna takes throughout his youth and as he heads into adulthood. I appreciated this aspect of the novel. I felt it was a different take from the queer books that typically hold a spotlight on the market, and the message that the fight is not over in many countries is an important one to express.

Weyward by Emilia Hart

Reviewed by Jenna Tomlinson

Weyward is the debut novel by Emilia Hart. It weaves together the fierce feminist stories of three women over five centuries: Altha, Violet and Kate, each linked by family ties, a Cumbrian cottage and a commanding power of the natural world.

This is much more than witch-lit, though. The women in Hart’s novel are tough, mentally and physically, overcoming both societal expectations and the oppressive power of men. Hart has cleverly set each protagonist in a key era to explore this.

Altha’s story takes place in 1619, a century synonymous with witch trials and widespread fear. She is a healer, with skills taught to her by her mother, who helps countless women in the village. But such craft soon becomes a dangerous skill to hold and following the violent death of a local farmer, Altha finds herself accused of witchcraft.

Violet’s story begins in 1942. A product of upper-class breeding and patriarchal societal rules, she has a keen interest in biology and entomology but, as a woman, is not allowed to study such topics. Her mother died when Violet was very young and her father, part of the landed gentry, is obsessed with keeping any details concerning Violet’s mother and her death a secret. Following a horrific incident at the family home, Violet is blamed by most of the men around her and in being cast out, stumbles upon the real history of her mother’s life.

Kate is our contemporary protagonist. Her story begins in 2019 when we see Kate flee her violent partner after years of abuse. She heads to a Cumbrian cottage inherited from her great-aunt. Meek and keen to keep a low profile, her new life slowly reveals the secrets of her aunt’s past to her and in doing so, reveals a strength in Kate she did not realise she had.

Each character is richly developed and shows the true diversity of women, even those linked by ancestry. Altha is fiercely loyal to her friends and loved ones, even when it comes at a cost to herself. Violet is curious and inquisitive, with a mischievous streak that endears others to her. But she’s also somewhat naive, and although she has learnt a lot from books, her knowledge of the world is somewhat lacking because of her upbringing. Kate is gentle and cautious, a product of years of mistreatment and torment at the hands of her abuser.

What each woman has in common is an instinct for survival and an innate desire to pass on their knowledge and power to those next in line. Each has been caged at some point by the men around her and is unwilling to stand by and let this treatment continue. They are all resilient in the face of oppression.

Weyward is such a powerful story that it’s no wonder it created such a literary buzz. I devoured the book in a haze, desperate to know what lay in store for each of the women and how their stories were linked. There are a number of trigger warnings to be aware of, but it’s a fantastic and empowering read.



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