4 out of 4 stars
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Kalayla by Jeannie Nicholas is a piercing novel that describes the traumas of three women across different generations. Lena, a widow and co-owner of a family-owned property management business, lives her life in solitude, struggling with the loss of her children. It is in one of her properties that she meets Maureen and her daughter. Maureen is also a widow who is not only struggling with the loss of her husband and the difficulties of being a single mother but must enter into the workforce with no previous experience. She has no connections to her family, who kicked her out for marrying a black man and having a biracial child. And then there is Kalayla, a young girl who is forced to grow up too quickly and is at risk of going down the wrong path. Jeannie Nicholas does not shy away from difficult topics, and Kalayla digs into the deep impacts of abuse, grief, racism, and homophobia. Will Lena, Maureen, and Kalayla be able to find healing, or are they destined to continue the destructive cycles that they have been victims of?
Everything about Kalayla is fantastic. The chapters rotate between the three perspectives, and Jeannie Nicholas is skilled at creating different personas and voices for each of them. The narratives are expertly crafted to connect, thereby ensuring the transitions between perspectives are smooth. Each character is relatable and dynamic. The personal traumas Lena, Maureen, and Kalayla endure are written as fiction but are realities for many people. Readers are likely to find parallels between the issues in the book and their own lives. This has the potential to invoke intense emotions (There were more than a few times I had to put the book down to sort through my feelings.), but I see this as a positive because it can help facilitate healing.
While I normally can pinpoint an aspect of a novel that I do not like, I am hard-pressed to find one with Kalayla. Jeannie Nicholas’ writing is so engaging, insightful, and authentic that I can do nothing but praise it.
I gladly give Kalayla four out of four stars. With very few errors, I can confidently assert that this story was likely professionally edited. It is a tale that can be heart wrenching to read, but it is also one that can offer insight and comfort.
There are sexual scenes and depictions of abuse. Likewise, there is a generous serving of swearing. For this reason, I would recommend Kalayla for young adults and adults. However, with parental supervision, it can be used as an invaluable resource to discuss with children the topics depicted. Readers who are interested in character centered stories and narratives that depict raw representations of real-world issues will be fans of this novel.
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