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Our Weekly Reads: The 2021 Jhalak Prize Longlist Edition

By Shaniah Shields, Jia Wen Ho, Leanne Francis and Jane Link

The Jhalak Prize is awarded annually to a British/British resident BAME writer. The Prize has grown since awarding its first winner in 2017 and now extends to a sister prize: The Jhalak Children's and YA Prize. Both prizes support and celebrate writers of colour in Britain.

The 2021 longlist for both prizes includes a plethora of exciting stories from emerging writers such as Caleb Femi and Danielle Jawando. You can find our reviews for four longlisted books below.

Baby Girl by Emma Hill

Publisher: Emma Hill, Writes, 2020

Rating 1-5: 4 stars

Baby Girl is about Missie, a teenage mother and her baby, Chloe. Missie loves music, and she shares it in the form of nursery rhymes with Chloe. She makes up lyrics with the nursery rhyme beats, telling her life story. Missie feels that she doesn't belong anywhere, not whilst living with her Nan or in school with her friends.

Through the first-person perspective, Missie's life is unveiled like layers of an onion; her admiration of her friend's glamour, the unpleasantness she feels in the way Nan handles Chloe, and her reluctance to meet her Mum. It all adds little by little.

The perspective portrays her fears for Chloe and the problematic relationships she has with adults who are supposed to be nurturing. However, Baby Girl is also a story of hope and love between a mother and her daughter. The creative lyrics in the form of nursery rhymes adds another dimension to the narrative, showing Missie's life that is her own. Baby Girl literally sings of pain, fear, love, healing and hope.

When Life Gives You Mangoes by Kereen Getten

Publisher: Pushkin Children's Books, 2020

Rating 1-5: 4 stars

When Life Gives You Mangoes is a contemporary middle-grade novel by debut author Kereen Getten. It is also about different friendships, moving forward and forgetting your past.

Set in the seaside community of Sycamore in Jamaica, this story follows Clara. She is desperate to regain the lost memory of what happened to her during a storm the previous summer. Because the story is told from twelve-year-old protagonist Clara's eyes, it becomes even more honest and funny. Not only does it cover a plethora of important issues, from friendship to mental health, but it also does it well. The multiple layers forming the story keeps you grounded despite the ever-changing world that takes place.

I absolutely loved Rudy, the girl who arrives at Sycamore from England and makes big waves on the island. I also enjoyed the tiny bit of mystery that underpinned the narrative. It is short and sweet like the mangoes Clara eats, and I would highly recommend it!

[re: desire] by Afshan D'souza-Lodhi

Publisher: Burning Eye Books, 2020

Rating 1-5: 4 stars

Afshan D'souza-Lodhi's debut poetry collection, [re: desire], explores love, sexuality and desire from a desi (South Asian) perspective. Split into eight segments, each section focuses on a different issue, including love, family and racial identity. [re: desire] is a unique blend of flash fiction, poetry and script, incorporating Urdu poetry traditions and different cultures to create a collection that is strong and distinctive in its voice.

There is a fluidity and warmth to [re: desire] that invites us to bask in it and exhale. Throughout the collection, the use of lowercase challenges typical conventions in poetry, lessening the focus on formality and allowing the language to flow naturally. Each poem moves between people who, like characters, lead lives that are briefly yet intimately described.

[re: desire] magnifies our society's issues, rejecting the male gaze and, instead, inviting us to share in our hurt and rejoice in our individuality. This dazzling collection will resonate with many for its fierce depiction of womanhood, its blurring of conversational boundaries and its narration of living on the fringe of different cultures as a young British desi woman.

Are We Home Yet by Katy Massey

Publisher: Jacaranda, 2020

Rating 1-5: 3.5 stars

Katy Massey wrote a part of Are We Home Yet as part of her creative writing dissertation for a PhD in memoir and autobiography. This is the undeniably unique story of a girl growing up overweight and mixed-race in Thatcher-era Leeds. With a mystifying Jewish mother and an absent Nigerian father, Massey writes about the boundaries of identity and feeling out of place in predominantly white spaces, from her working-class block to the posh boarding school that keeps her out of street trouble.

She also writes about the traumatising experience of witnessing her mother pay for her schooling by doing sex work out of their living room and running a brothel pretending to be a massage parlour called Aristotle. Massey's prose is distinguished and ripe with lyrical delights: watching it grapple with the fallibility of the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves is an exquisite experience. While the itinerant narrative structure sometimes runs away with itself, Massey's resounding voice makes this vitally important memoir about a mixed-race, working-class Northerner. Part of Jacaranda's historical initiative to publish 20 Black British voices in 2020, Are We Home Yet is an instant classic that stretches the idea of British blackness beyond the London-centric.


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