Beverly's Reviews > Tiny Sunbirds, Far Away

Tiny Sunbirds, Far Away by Christie Watson
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Dec 16, 2013

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bookshelves: africa, cross-cultural, young-adult
Read in January, 2011

Tiny Sunbirds Far Away by Christie Watson opens with 12 year-old Blessing speaking to the charmed life she lives in Lagos, Nigeria with her larger-than-life father, doting mother, and her 14 year-old brother, Ezikiel. All of this will suddenly change when the mother catches the father with another woman, and he decides to leave. The father’s departure starts off a chain of events; first the mother is fired from her job for being unmarried, and now unable to afford living in Lagos, moves to her parent’s rural village in the troubled Niger Delta. From the first sickening smells as they are approaching the Niger Delta, Blessing will experience changes not only in her environment, but also will need to manage what is expected of her as a young Nigerian girl living in a village.

This enthralling coming-of-age story shows the resilience of people to adapt and overcome obstacles trying to be true to themselves with as much dignity as possible. Blessing engages the reader on her journey by merging the strange with the familiar, showing how lives are shaped by the culture and politics. As the story is told from Blessings point-of-view, like most coming-of-age stories it may expose issues without the depth some readers may like. This is not the shortcoming of the author, but of the genre. Many themes such as corporation corruption and female circumcision may render this tale too troublesome for teenage readers, while other such as the challenges obtaining elementary education, and destruction of the environment would engage the teenage reader. Through all of the chaos happening in her life, Blessing does have a guiding hand to help her demystify her new world, Nana, her grandmother. Through Nana, we learn the world of midwifery, and the respect midwives are accorded, and how Nana uses her occupation as a catalyst for change while maintaining the vow of a traditionalist.

The strength of the book is the depiction of the varied female characters as they dominate the storyline despite being marginalized by their culture and situations. The author shows them as the backbone of the Nigerian culture and writes them with much dignity and strength as should be accorded for the risks they take, and the connections they forge to provide humanness in troubled times. One of my favorite quotes of the book, which illustrates the bonds between the women occurs at the beginning of the book when Blessing asks her mother why she choose for them to go to her parents house when they have never visited each other, and the mother answers, “No mother and daughter live apart, no matter how big the distance between them.”

I had the opposite reaction regarding the majority of the male characters in the book, especially the African males. As an African-American female, I am very conscious on how males of color are portrayed in the media and books, and in Tiny Sunbirds Far Away, I was disappointed the African male characters leaned towards caricature of negative stereotypes. Not that the behavior portrayed in the book does not exist, but I struggled to find a positive portrayal, and did not find one until the end of the book. I needed at least one of them either the grandfather, the father, Ezikiel or Youseff to be portrayed in a positive light to offset “the white knight in shining armor” character of Dan. Aside from that point, this is a well-crafted debut novel which will introduce many readers to the Niger Delta and their current conditions, lingering in readers memories long after the last page is read.

Tiny Sunbirds Far Away is a wonderful addition to the literature of coming-of-age stories, and I look forward to reading the future works by Christine Watson. I recommend this book to readers who enjoying coming-of-age stories with a multicultural theme.

Reviewed by Beverly
APOOO Literary Book Review
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12/16/2013 marked as: read

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