How You Grow Wings

Algonquin. Aug. 2022. 336p. Tr $18.95. ISBN 9781643751917.
Gr 9 Up–Teenage sisters Cheta and Zam resent each other intensely. Long the target of their mother’s violent physical abuse, 17-year-old Cheta has developed into a self-centered survivor with an iron will, intent on leaving the village of Alihame, Nigeria, behind and never looking back. But when a wealthy aunt and uncle invite one of the girls to move in with them, they pick compliant, passive Zam instead. In Aunty Sophie and Uncle Emeke’s over-the-top Abuja mansion, Zam feels out of place as she navigates tensions within the household and her own struggles with anxiety. Unwilling to remain stuck in Alihame, Cheta moves to Benin City and begins selling drugs as darker options present themselves—like following in the footsteps of a classmate whose middle-aged sugar daddy bankrolls her lavish lifestyle. Told in Zam and Cheta’s alternating perspectives, debut author Onoseta’s novel offers exceptionally rich character development, slowly unraveling the history of the sisters’ relationship until it becomes as easy to empathize with each of them as it is to understand why they hate each other. Parallel plots drive towards a surprising, powerful moment of intersection. Modern social and political issues are masterfully woven into the narrative, including the erosion of Nigerian languages and religion in the postcolonial era, class divides, colorism, and sexual exploitation of underage girls.
VERDICT An unforgettable, character-driven exploration of sisterhood, survival, and self-advocacy perfect for fans of Elizabeth Acevedo or Ibi Zoboi.

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