4 out of 5 stars
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Kalayla by Jeannie Nicholas chronicles the incidents in the lives of two women and a young girl and how their lives affect each other. The story deals with themes of grief, death, acceptance, struggles of identity, and love. The main element tying the plot together is the young girl, Kalayla. She is the driving force in this story of growth and facing reality. Though she does not understand the new world she has been thrust into, her journey of finding her place in it helps other characters face their demons and desires. The story is a bildungsroman, a novel tracing the spiritual, moral, psychological, or social development and growth of the main character, usually from childhood to maturity.
The characters in the story feel very much like real people; the author stays true to her original characterisations throughout the course of the book. Kalayla, for example, is written as a brash, foul-tongued child forced to grow up before her time. Her personality shines through her every interaction in a completely natural manner. Lena Barzetti, the pillar of support to Kalayla's mother, is not depicted as an infallible, god-like individual. Instead, her faults humanise her and endear her to the reader. None of Jeannie Nicholas' characters is perfect, making the story a delight to read. The story itself doesn't deviate from the main plot or waste time with insignificant details. It, in an honest manner, sheds light on the different ways people deal with loss. The story does not shy away from talking about the darker aspects of society and people.
The book progresses slowly in the beginning since the author provides the readers with the backstories of the characters in one go instead of staggering them through the course of the plot. There is no gradual build-up or suspense regarding the motivations and fears of these characters.
I rate this book 4 out of 5 stars. Although the lack of progress in the plot in the initial chapters of the book bored me, the story soon started picking up steam and became an action-packed journey of finding one's place in life, dealing with old wounds and new, and most importantly, adjusting to the curve balls life so often throws at us without any warning.
This book would resonate as much with a 17-year-old as it would with a 50-year-old. Kalayla is best suited to an audience that enjoys reading slice-of-life stories that centre on personal growth.
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