Category Archives: Coming of Age

Ponti by Sharlene Teo

PontiTitle: Ponti
Author: Sharlene Teo
Publisher: Picador
ISBN: 978-1509855322
Genre: Teenagers, Friendship, Literary Fiction
Pages: 304
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

You read books that have similar plots. You also read books that surprise and stun you. Those books are rare and far and few in between. “Ponti” for sure is one of them! At the same time, it is a weird book in the sense of time and its shift – the constant back and forth, which only lends itself beautifully to the novel. “Ponti” also masterfully moves away from being just a “perspectives” novel to include landscape, culture, and ethos of not only a city but also friendship and matters of the heart.

“Ponti” is a story that centres mainly on two years – 2003 and 2020. Place: Singapore. Sixteen year-old Szu lives in the shadow of her mother Amisa, who was once an actress and now is just a hack medium performing séances with her sister in an almost dilapidated house. Szu then happens to meet Circe – who is not only quite expressive to the point of being offensive but also privileged. Their friendship is the start of something, offering Szu an easy escape. Things happen, life changes and seventeen years later – life is off to another start, with a project and secrets that decide to not remain secrets anymore.

Might I add here that after reading this book, all you’d want to do is visit Singapore. Teo makes the city come alive like no other writer and just for that (if I had to pick one element of the book that is) I would highly recommend this book. The writing is edgy and full of wonders – good and bad. Yes, I would believe there could be bad wonders – or would that just be shocking so to say.

Teo’s writing is so powerful – at times I thought the wind had been knocked off me. I loved the pace and the style. The characters face loneliness, angst, and confusion like no other – this causes them things to do which perhaps they wouldn’t and that’s where most of the story stems from. “Ponti” also needs patience in the first couple of pages, after which for me it was a smooth ride. A read that is fascinating, worrying and also insightful in so many ways.

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Where the Dead Sit Talking by Brandon Hobson

Where the Dead Sit Talking Title: Where the Dead Sit Talking
Author: Brandon Hobson
Publisher: Soho Press
ISBN: 978-1616958879
Genre: Coming of Age
Pages: 288
Source: Author
Rating: 5 Stars

Coming of age stories are always appealing to me. Somewhere or the other, they spring up and I read them and get all nostalgic about growing-up too soon or growing-up and not realizing that it happened. “Where the Dead Sit Talking” is one such book. Also, might I add here that coming-of-age stories could also take place at a time when you are also an adult, however, this one is set on the brink of adolescence and is illuminating and intensely psychological at the same time.

“Where the Dead Sit Talking” is not a regular coming of age book. It is raw, jagged at the edges and tackles some major issues such as child abuse, abandonment, alcoholism and neglect without any pretense. Also, to some extent it draws on the flaws of the American foster care system (I’ve always wondered how efficient that is, but I guess there is another book for that at another time).

The book is set in the late ‘80’s, Sequoyah a fifteen-year-old, is the narrator of the book. He has moved from one foster home to another (his mother is serving jail time), till he seems to settle with this one family in Little Crow and that’s where the story begins. He forms an instant connection with one of the other foster children there – Rosemary and that forms the crux of the book.

The thing about this book is that it doesn’t sugar coat brutality. It is there for all to read and experience, no matter if you are cringing or don’t want to turn another page (which you wouldn’t want to, because this book is that good), read you must.

Hobson’s characters are so flawed and waiting for redemption so long, that you start hoping for them. Brandon’s prose is simple and yet striking, it is layered and easy to read, which to me are fantastic about very few books. Also, the Native-American narrative is so needed (was always needed) and comes out powerfully in the book. At the heart of it though, “Where the Dead Sit Talking” is about humans – battered, lonely, the ones who do things and then regret and sometimes there is no regret as well. It is a book waiting to share its secrets with you, it is more than just a coming-of-age book – the one that will move and haunt you in equal measure.

The Parking Lot Attendant by Nafkote Tamirat

The Parking Lot AttendantTitle: The Parking Lot Attendant
Author: Nafkote Tamirat
Publisher: Henry Holt and Co.
ISBN: 978-1250128508
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 240
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

The Parking Lot Attendant is such a weird book at times and maybe because of all its oddities it works brilliantly for the reader in so many places. The plot is this: An unnamed young woman (a lot of unnamed narrators or protagonists in books these days), who has just recently become a resident on the island of B with her father tells the story of how things came to be. Of why she and her father had to come to this Utopian styled community, leaving their home in Boston. That essentially is the crux of the story. No wait. There is more.

 

There is Ayale, the shady parking lot owner in his mid-thirties who the woman was attracted to while she was living in Boston. Their life as Ethiopians in Boston (this has to be mentioned. You will know why when you read the book). The book is about the woman and her relationship with Ayale, her father and how she has to flee the country with her father. I can’t give away any spoilers, but I guess you get the drift.

 

Tamirat’s writing is refreshing. It doesn’t mostly follow the linearity of time – things happen and jump from one time track to another, so it does take a lot to get into the book, but once you get the hang of the events, it is an easy ride. The story seems awkward but it is anything but that.

 

There is a lot going on – coming of age, the woman’s relationship with her father, the commune and its principles (will almost make you relate to the world we live in) and Ayale’s relationship with the woman (which is so twisted that you have to read it to believe it). “The Parking Lot Attendant” is engaging, stumbles at times, confusing as well, but redeems itself beautifully with the writing and characters. I loved it nonetheless.

 

 

Speak No Evil by Uzodinma Iweala

Speak No Evil by Uzodinma Iweala Title: Speak No Evil
Author: Uzodinma Iweala
Publisher: Harper
ISBN: 978-0061284922
Genre: Literary Fiction, Coming of Age
Pages: 224
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 stars

Very few books get me all disturbed and thinking about the world we live in. Yes, most of them are impactful, so to say but none off-late have had the lasting effect that “Speak No Evil” will (of which I am sure). I don’t know what it is about this book that makes you so uncomfortable as a reader that you don’t want to read further. I will not spoil anything for you, but the ending is not what I expected. I was shocked and stunned (but that’s where I will leave it).

“Speak No Evil” can be broadly classified into the literary fiction genre, but it is definitely so much more. It is a coming-of-age book, a book about identity and also a book about being an alien in America, but at the heart of it all, it is a book about Niru, an eighteen-year-old boy who comes out to his best friend Meredith and that’s when things take a turn for the worst.

Niru’s parents were born in Nigeria and immigrated to the U.S to build successful careers and give all the privilege to their sons (who are American-born) which they didn’t receive. Till they discover Niru is gay and all hell breaks loose. His father takes him to Nigeria for the summer to get him rid of being gay and the action takes place again in Washington D.C (where they live), ultimately leading to the end.

The book has two narrators – Niru and Meredith. The bulk of the book is told through Niru – his experiences about not only being gay but also being black (it is always about fitting in, and thinking that when they treat you as the other, it is alright but it so isn’t). Niru’s portion broke my heart so many times. I wanted to reach out to him and tell him it will be okay. I have gone through it and it will become easier with time. But Iweala has to do what he must with Niru and Meredith.

“Speak No Evil” disturbs you because you know all that what takes place in the world and yet we are merely people who standby and do nothing about it. Iweala touches on so many themes through Niru and Meredith – that the subtlety of it all will dazzle you; the writing is powerful, though disjointed at times (maybe that is the allure of this book after all). Niru’s parents’ characters are so strong and yet do not overpower the book. I wish I had known his brother OJ better. There is some vague connect between the brothers but I wish there had been more. It might be all about Niru but Meredith also took my heart away in so many places and overall as well. She loves Niru and feels rejected. There is so much going on with her that she can’t tell and to me the unsaid is always more intriguing, which Iweala has expressed marvelously.

All said and done, “Speak No Evil” is a book that will make your heart sing and mourn at the same time. It may leave you wanting more but also so satisfied. Read. It. Today.