Review by Booklist Review
Young teen twin sisters Bibike and Ariyike are forced to grow up sooner than expected after their mother is laid off from her job in Lagos, Nigeria, and their father loses the family's savings in a financial scam. In an effort to escape the pressure of their new poverty and ongoing abuse in the home, the girls' mother leaves to find a better life. Their father follows suit, leaving the twins and their two younger brothers in the care of their Yoruba grandmother. All four children deal with the loss of their parents and the destruction of their family by defining sexual freedom, acceptance, and their personal religious beliefs without much outside guidance. Seeing the girls into adulthood, Abraham's debut novel tackles weighty topics like rape, self-discovery, and the mischief of prominent religious figures with a refreshing elegance. Bibike and Ariyike are nuanced characters who often make decisions with a jarred moral compass. Abraham gently ushers readers into both sisters' perspectives, inviting us into their journey to autonomous peace.--LaParis Hawkins Copyright 2019 Booklist
From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review
Abraham's fierce debut follows four Nigerian siblings living in Lagos from childhood in 1996 through early adulthood in 2015. Twin sisters Bibike and Ariyike, and their younger brothers, Andrew and Peter, spend their early years in a relatively stable middle-class family. Then their mother loses her government job and their father wastes the rest of the family's savings in a get-rich-quick scheme. Soon after, their mother leaves for New York, their father takes off for parts unknown, and the kids are left in the care of their grandmother. As the girls grow up, Ariyike becomes involved in a Pentecostal church and eventually marries its charismatic leader, while Bibike takes a series of more secular jobs. Both are sexually exploited time after time. The chapters involving their brothers focus on the horrors of life in a boarding school--incessant bullying by the older students, food deprivation--which the sisters can't attend because they must work to support the family. The novel's strength lies in its lush, unflinching scenes, as when a seemingly simple infection leads gradually but inexorably to a life-threatening condition, revealing the dynamics of the family and community along the way. Abraham mightily captures a sense of the stresses of daily life in a family, city, and culture that always seems on the edge of self-destruction. (Feb.)
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Review by Kirkus Book Review
When things fall apart, four modern Nigerian siblings will need cunning to survive.In this piercing, supple debut, a Nigerian father is scammed into ruin, and his wife, wearing her "favorite perfume, Elizabeth Arden's Red Door," soon flees to New York. The couple had honeymooned in Spain and lived a comfortable life, but "my family unraveled rapidly," says their daughter Ariyike, "in messy loose knots, hastening away from one another, shamefaced and lonesome, injured solitary animals in a happy world." Ariyike sells water on the Lagos streets while her sister scrubs hospital toilets, their younger brothers both hungry and in need of school fees. All subsist with their complaining Yoruba grandmother. In a riveting sequence, Bibike helps her twin, Ariyike, transform into Keke to audition for an on-air radio job. A male acquaintance advises: "Dress sexy, be confident, smell nice, and if you are offered something to drink, ask for water first....If they insist, ask for something foreign and healthy, like green tea." Keke isn't chosen but leverages a position anyway by trading sex and plying her encyclopedic knowledge of Luke's and Matthew's Gospels. Thus begins her rise in Christian radio. Sexoften predatoryforms and deforms all four siblings; the novel features several rapes. Chapters alternate in each sibling's voice over a stretch of 20 years. The brothers grow up and move to Chicago and out of the story. Abraham stuffs her novel past brimming, but its sophisticated structure and propulsive narration allow her to tuck in a biting critique of corrupt colonial religion and universally exploitative men. "It was fortunate to be beautiful and desired," says Bibike, whose voice opens the story. "It made people smile at me. I was used to strangers wishing me well. But what is a girl's beauty, but a man's promise of reward?" Bibike eventually becomes a healer who cherishes their Yoruba grandmother while Keke, the wife of a powerful and monstrous pastor, tastes ashesthe source of the novel's title.Twin sisters cut adrift in a perilous, duplicitous world learn that "only the wise survive." A formidable debut. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.