4 out of 4 stars
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Isn't it true that a family is supposed to stick by your side when the rest of the world turns against you? Isn't a family supposed to be your rock, on which you can always rely no matter what life throws at you? When we think of a family, these are the images that come to mind for everyone of us. What if, though, this same family becomes a significant source of your distress? So, how do you react? The novel Kalayla, penned down by Jeannie Nicholas, revolves around the same issue, namely, familial relationships and how fragile they can be. Apart from this, the novel also addresses the relations that aren't of blood but still can be the most beautiful ones. And this it successfully does by depicting bond that Kalayla, an eleven year old girl; Lena, an elderly woman; and Maureen, a widowed mother, share.
Set in the 90s, the novel deals with the story of Kalayla, who lost her father at a tender age and now lives with her mother. She is a girl who loves to be with herself, has no friends to hang out with, and practically is on her own, carving out her own paths to do whatever she wants. She comes in contact with an old widowed woman named Lena and eventually goes on to build a beautiful and robust connection with her, to the point where she can barge into her home at any moment and act as if it were her own. As the novel progresses, we learn about Kalayla's mother, Maureen. She made her daughter her world after her husband died in an accident, and she is always concerned about her. She has been concealing something from her and is afraid of the repercussions if it is revealed. What is it that she has been keeping hidden? Is her daughter ever going to find out about it? What will her reaction be if she discovers the secret? Aside from these two women, the story also features Lena, an elderly woman who has endured a traumatic past and has yet to recover. After meeting Kalayla, she believed she had an opportunity to atone for some of her previous failures as a mother by keeping Kalayla safe and protected.
One of the best things about this book is that it isn't told from a single point of view; instead, all the three women have been given their own voices, and this certainly makes the story more exciting and engaging. Another feature of the book is how it alternates between past and present. At one moment, the writer will be talking about Lena and the way she dresses and the next moment, we will have story about the reasons behind that, reasons that arise from her past. The way the bond between Kalayla and Lena is presented, the way Maureen and Lena bond because of their shared sentiments about motherhood, and the way Kalayla makes things work out for her, make the novel worth reading.
Along with the above mentioned themes, the novel also talks about the ideas of racism, sexual assault, and a husband's dominance over his wife and her body. There is a lot of profanity involved, a lot of cuss words have been used. There is also a scene depicting a murder. Sexual scenes are also there. As unsettling as these things are, they were necessary for the story's development, so I won't complain too much.
There were no grammatical errors, and the story flowed smoothly. The shift between past and present was also not at all distracting. And the way events unfolded one after another had me enthralled till the very end. I'd give this beautiful novel 4 out of 4 stars for everything it's about. The book is recommended to everyone who enjoys a good story and is willing to put up with all the profanity and unpleasant elements discussed above.
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