To Kiss a Girl by Ruby Yayra Goka is a compelling young adult novel published by Digibooks Ghana in 2018. The novel has been awarded the 2018 CODE Burt Award for African Young Adult Literature Honour Book. The theme of the book is a coming of age story centering around the familial and societal pressures on adolescent growing up in Ghana. Goka also explores a teenage girl’s coping with death and dying and the impact this has on her daily life. The book focuses on the main character, Gyikua Ampofo’s life after her older sister has been found dead and her mother has left the family to search for her. Gyikua must take over the household duties her mother once was in charge of including cooking, cleaning, and looking after her younger sister, Maa Sarfoa. The family is grieving the loss of Ntiriwa and adjusting to their mother’s absence in the wake of emotional upheaval. The father of the family serves as a pastor in their community and Gyikua experiences a loss of faith due to the loss she has endured of her sister and mother. The community they live in also has judgments surrounding Gyikua’s mother choosing to leave her family and the family unit bonds together against these opinions. Gyikua is also preparing for the West African Senior School Certificate Examination (WASSCE) and each chapter opens with one of her to-do lists of the things she needs to complete for the day which includes studying. She is also dealing with being ostracized by her old friends at her school which causes her to spend lunch periods reading alone. This also causes her to experience intense loneliness and even anxiety over the losses she has endured which cause her to not get more than a couple of hours of sleep nightly.
The story’s main conflict is between the appearance of Chidi Anukwe in Gyikua’s life. He is one of her dad’s friends, Brother Emeka’s, only son who has come to Ghana for a couple months from their home in Nigeria. His life is shrouded in mystery with him owning a red Audi and eating mostly dessert for his meals. He connects with Gyikua by forgoing the popular group that is interested in him from his first day at their school and instead starts to sit by her at lunch. Then, during one of their morning assemblies, he gives her a Sudoku puzzle to complete by a certain day and this becomes a routine for the two of them. Sometimes Chidi gives her a cedi note and the puzzles become more complex as the story progresses. The story becomes centralized on the daily interactions and growing bond between Chidi and Gyikua that centers on similar tragic backgrounds. They also find commonalities with having trouble sleeping and go one some late-night adventures together in which Chidi shows her his photography skills. As the story evolves, Gyikua learns more about Chidi’s past and her to-do lists become empty by the end of the book with her living instead of planning every detail out. The story also features Chidi and Gyikua traveling to Accra, Ghana where Ntiriwa died and Chidi grew up. After this point, the story includes a shocking revelation and the rest of the book deals with the family’s reaction to the truth. The novel concludes with a culmination of the character arc for Gyikua and her outlook on her future is greatly changed from the beginning of the novel.
This book was interesting in that it presented the everyday life of an adolescent in Ghana without focusing on the mainstream narrative many American readers get about what African people’s realities are. I especially found Goka’s writing structure to be effective in expressing cultural differences while also including points of commonality through the exam stress and school culture. The book explores the implications of death on a family unit and shows two polarizing reactions of staying or abandoning one’s family when a parent’s mental health suffers. This story also echoes the notion of an adolescent being forced to grow up and adopt adult tendencies through Gyikua’s determination to keep her family running smoothly in her mother’s absence. I agree with the author’s exploration of faith in an adolescent’s life and find this topic to be relatable for readers who may also be experiencing a loss of faith due to a loss. Gyikua’s characterization also connects to the experience of being an adolescent by focusing on the things that she worries most about which are her family and her future. Her struggles with mental health and being able to sleep also can be relatable for readers undergoing similar periods of crisis in their life. I was greatly impacted by this book and it moved me to tears in multiple chapters because of the way in which it highlighted the emotional toll of loss. Goka’s writing was also effective in portraying sibling relations and the struggles that come with dealing with that amongst emotional upheavals. I think that Goka’s writing of leaving the mother’s perspective out of the story bolster a sense of ambiguity and allows for readers to imagine her story while navigating through the effects of her absence. This book would be best suited for an adolescent audience due to its focus on the adolescent experience in Ghana. I also would recommend this book to anyone who has gone through times of loss or felt alone in school settings due to rumors. Overall, this novel was one of my favorite young adult novels I have been able to read due to its exemplary writing and incorporation of relatable and important themes such as death, dying, growing up, and life outlooks.
“African Young Adult Literature.” CODE, CODE’s Burt Literary Awards, 2018,www.burtaward.org/african-young-adult-lit.
Goka, Ruby Yayra. “Book Cover of To Kiss a Girl.” Ruby Goka, 2018, www.rubygoka.com/more-info.
Goka, Ruby Yayra. To Kiss a Girl. Digibooks Ghana, 2018.