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Not to be Overlooked

Not To Be Overlooked introduces a variety of wonderful but lesser-known books to assist readers in finding their next great reads. This review covers The List by Yomi Adegoke and The Secret Lives of Church Ladies by Deesha Philyaw.

The List by Yomi Adegoke

Review by Nayisha Patel

The lives of journalist Ola Olajide and aspiring presenter Michael Koranteng, dubbed the “King and Queen of #BlackLove” on Instagram, are the focus of the novel. A trending tweet reveals Michael's name on “The List,” a list of men accused of sexual assault, only one month before their lavish wedding. Ola is forced to choose between her moral compass and her love for Michael as their world comes apart. Readers are prompted to consider their moral boundaries as the narrative follows their journey as they deal with the deterioration of relationships, trust and reputation.

The effect of social media on contemporary relationships and society at large is thoroughly examined by Adegoke. She explores the paradoxical nature of online platforms through Ola and Michael's experiences. Social media can make people famous and successful, but it can also ruin lives and reputations. The List challenges readers to think about the veracity of online voices, the contribution of digital anonymity to the spread of harm and the effects of cancel culture.

The List's central theme is a comprehensive investigation of morality and how it affects interpersonal relationships. Ola must decide whether to stick up for her spouse in the face of unsubstantiated accusations. The book poses challenging concerns regarding the parameters of forgiveness, the complexity of love in the face of conflict and the bounds of loyalty. Readers are urged to reflect on their moral principles and how they would act in similar situations. Adegoke illuminates the persistent theme of power and abuse in society via the perspective of “The List.” The story shows the pervasiveness of sexual misbehaviour and the terrible effects it has on victims. Readers are forced by Adegoke's story to face up to harsh truths about power abuse and the significance of keeping abusers accountable. Additionally, The List emphasises the critical role that journalism plays in exposing these injustices and fighting for justice.

Yomi Adegoke's first book, The List, has become a widely anticipated work in the field of contemporary writing, catching the interest of both readers and reviewers. Adegoke gained notoriety for her earlier writing, Slay In Your Lane: The Black Girls Bible, which positioned her as a leading figure in the discussion of social concerns. She now dives into a compelling story that examines the intricacies of relationships, trust and social media's influence. Throughout the novel, she positions her stance on various social topics, and the novel prompts you to think about what you would do if you were in the characters' situation.

The Secret Lives of Church Ladies by Deesha Philyaw

Review by Georgia Appleyard

The Secret Lives of Church Ladies is the first short story collection from Deesha Philyaw, an American writer, columnist and speaker, and has won the 2020/2021 Story Prize. The collection offers rare, intimate glimpses into the private lives of Black women, so-called “church ladies,” as they grapple with identity, desire, relationships, family conflicts and the pressures of growing up as a Black woman in the Church.

Short story collections can sometimes earn polarised responses from readers, given the challenge of crafting well-rounded characters whom the reader wants to know more about, whilst also fleshing out each story enough to feel complete. In The Secret Lives of Church Ladies, Philyaw has mastered the short story form, creating three-dimensional characters whose stories resonate and stay with the reader. Despite the two-dimensional roles they must assume in their public lives as devout mothers, wives and churchgoers, these ladies have rich inner lives and desires that unfold behind closed doors.

Despite the stereotypes they face, Philyaw’s ladies know who they are and exactly what they want. In “Instructions for Married Christian Husbands,” the narrator boldly asserts her wishes via a series of rules for her married lovers, in an ironic reversal of the patriarchal rules that Christian women are often expected to live by. Another highlight of the collection is “Peach Cobbler,” which follows our narrator from the naivety of her childhood when she believed her mother’s lover – the local pastor – to be God incarnate, to the discovery of her own secret, forbidden longing for a local boy.

The ladies’ stories are often both sensual and emotional, particularly when desire clashes with Biblical teachings, as in the case of the same-sex couples who feature in the collection. The opening story, “Eula,” sets the tone and introduces many of the themes of the collection through vignettes of Eula and Caroletta’s relationship, which is quietly threatened by Eula’s own Christian beliefs which forbid homosexuality.

In this remarkable debut, Deesha Philyaw reveals a significant talent for crafting poignant and thought-provoking narratives that delve deep into the lives of her characters, all within the constraints of the short story format. While reading, you'll find yourself wishing that any of these short stories could be expanded into brilliant novels. Perhaps the impossibility of continuing on the characters’ journeys with them is what aligns us most closely with the “church ladies,” through our longing for that which remains out of our grasp.


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