3 out of 4 stars
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Kalayla is a headstrong preteen who lives in an apartment with her mother, Maureen. When Maureen met Kalayla's father, Jamal, it was love at first sight. Unfortunately, her parents were less than thrilled. Jamal was a black man, and the idea of their daughter taking part in an interracial relationship was unbearable. The O'Rourke's disowned Maureen when she decided to marry Jamal and wanted nothing to do with Kalayla when she was born. When Jamal died, Maureen tried to make amends, but her efforts were futile.
Being a single mother meant that Maureen had to work a lot, often taking on multiple jobs to make ends meet. Kalayla didn't have any friends, so she spent most of her time at the laundromat. One day, she meets Lena, another tenant in her apartment building. Lena is an older woman, old enough to be Kalayla's grandmother. The two become good friends and begin to spend most of their time together, especially when Lena has food to offer. Lena attempts to teach Kalayla some manners and ways to cope with her anger. Little does she know she will be learning a thing or two as well.
Kalayla was a beautifully written fictional story, overflowing with drama, struggle, and hilarious dialogue. Each chapter alternates between the perspectives of Maureen, Lena, and Kalaya. Jeannie Nicholas did a great job of bringing these three characters to life. I laughed and commiserated with each of them throughout the entire book.
My favorite part of Kalayla was Lena. Despite having issues of her own, she felt compelled to care for Kalaya. They had a sort of love-hate relationship, which was hilarious. Kalayla would always refer to her as "the old lady," and Lena was constantly scolding her. I loved it when Lena let Kalayla stay with her while she was arguing with her mother. She let Kalayla hold a very precious bear that once belonged to her own children. Lena's personal growth (as well as that of Maureen and Kalayla) was very inspiring to me. Her evolution was made evident by the massive changes she made in her life, and I became incredibly fond of her.
Some of the major themes in this book are family, friendship, and social issues such as racism. The trouble Maureen faced with her family regarding her African American husband weighed heavily on her, and Nicholas depicted her emotions phenomenally. Rape and mental illness were also, albeit brief, themes in the book. There were a few instances of profanity but no graphic eroticism.
In terms of quality, it appears that this is an early version of the book. I came across several errors, both typographical and grammatical, which leads me to believe that Nicholas has yet to have Kalayla edited professionally. Despite this, the book was an absolute joy to read. Apart from the lack of editing, there was nothing to dislike about this book. I would highly recommend Kalayla to anyone looking to read a heartwarming story, and I am happy to award it 3 out of 4 stars.
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