Title: Being Amani (review copy)
Author: Annabelle Steele
Genre/Themes: Contemporary Young Adult, Domestic Abuse, Racism, Black U.K. Teenage Experience
Blurb from Goodreads
It’s been over a year since that night and Amani hopes that starting all over again will help her move on from the past.
So, when she moves to a new city, Amani wants to focus on her new life, her best friends and the boy she’s been crushing on but everything is falling apart and Amani finds herself looking for happiness in all the wrong places.
Can Amani confront the ghosts of her pasts so she can become the girl she’s always wanted to be?
“Being Amani” is an interesting if flawed book. It’s certainly a read that I felt immediately engaged by, and in Amani had an MC that was compelling to read about. I rooted for her right from the start and my heart broke for her on so many occasions. She is truly a deeply fascinating character to read about.
The story opens with a violent domestic attack by Amani’s father on her mother. We discover this is not the first time this has occurred but on this occasion Amani’s mum decides that she and Amani need to leave and they escape to Amani’s grandfather’s home in Greater Manchester.
The plot then follows Amani’s new life in Manchester as she struggles to balance life as a teenager i.e. falling in and out of love and sustaining long term friendships, while also dealing with what appears to be post-traumatic stress disorder.
Every now and then the narrative flashes back to “before” which shows us what life was like when Amani was living in an abusive home.
And I liked much of the earlier part of this novel. I was very moved by Amani and her struggles to make sense of her past trauma and how it impacted on her present thought processes and actions…
This book hasn’t got great female friendships in it, and that’s typically a bugbear of mine. But yet I could understand how Amani’s friendship with Sanaa could just go south so easily because of how cut off Amani could be due to her past experiences. And things did get a little “mean girls”-esque with Sanaa’s new friends’ treatment of Amani but I think the author managed to handle it in a way that exposed the racism and sexual objectification of Black teenage girls rather than just indulged in a tired trope.
But, at times this novel was too simplistic. As you can see from the extensive content warning list I gave this book deals with A LOT of heavy themes. And while I as a reader could see why it was Amani was suffering with panic attacks and ended up drinking too much, being alienated from her best friend etc., I don’t ever feel that Amani herself ultimately understood why she was struggling with her mental health. That moment where she recognised her trauma, or had someone else help her to understand her trauma never happened.
Yes she got to yell at the person who sexually assaulted her but ultimately that rang a little too hollow for me; I felt it was brushed over too lightly, dealt with too hurriedly. And on top of that, it almost seemed like she was forced to forgive the man who had been physically and emotionally abusive to not only her mother, but also to her. Don’t get me wrong, I like to believe in redemption and forgiveness… but these things take time. And they also require the wrongdoer to be held accountable. And I just don’t feel like Amani’s abusive father ever truly understood how much he destroyed his daughter and in my opinion he got off rather lightly. And honestly, it felt like Amani was almost hounded into giving him a second chance by her grandfather and mother…
There is a scene in the book when Amani’s father tells her his new fiancée is pregnant and that he is “going to be a dad”. And this floors Amani. Because as she tells him, he is already a dad. He is her dad. And to me the fallout from this scene in particular was dealt with in too much of a hurry and without the importance/impact it required.
END SPOILER ALERT!
What I did really like was the exploration of what it means to be a Black teenager in the U.K. This was where the novel really shone. The racism that was experienced by Amani was so quietly pervasive. There wasn’t a moment in public that she could be unaware of her skin colour and I found that to be utterly soul crushing. Just the instance of her walking into a swanky apartment building with eyes immediately on her. As a character she helped to make me feel what a horrible experience that must be; that sense of being othered and feeling that somehow you don’t belong purely because of your skin colour. Devastatingly brilliant.
This was a valiant effort by a debut author but I do feel the book needed to have a little more gravitas when it came to the majority of the heavy themes it attempted to tackle. I did however enjoy the hopeful tone of the book’s last few pages which is definitely something that we need to see more of when it comes to Black characters in YA. And it most certainly was a read that entirely captivated me as I read it in a single day without putting it down once.
I also cried.
Amani just truly touched my heart.
I would also like to add on the publisher’s website, and on the blurbs on both Amazon U.K. and Waterstones, there was a note saying that the book “Contains sensitive issues that some may find triggering”. As a reader I very much welcome authors and publishers who put the well-being of their readers to the fore. I would encourage publishers to go a step further and provide a more detailed content warning list that potential readers could access if they needed.
*An e-copy was kindly provided to me by the publisher via NetGalley for honest review*
Publishing 20th May 2021, YA Hashtag BLAK