The prose in For Sizakele by Yvonne Fly Onakeme Etaghene is luscious yet easy to follow, and I read the entire book in one day because the characters captivated me so much. This is a book that glows with not only the author’s culture but also queer identity and love of African/African diaspora women.
The MC, Taylor, is a Nigerian-American student passionately devoted to her activism. She recites stirring poetry about identity at local events and brings social justice speakers to her community to inspire others. She knows who she is and is confident in her worth as a person, but sometimes her activism takes up 25 hours of her day. Meanwhile, her girlfriend Lee is dealing with family abuse and betrayal, which left her in so much pain that it spills out over her edges to hurt the one she loves.
Into that volatile situation comes Sy. She’s African, like Taylor, and they bond instantly over shared diasporic sorrow, over shared food cravings, and over shared celebration of African women’s beauty. They speak to each other not only in English but also French and in Pidgin, skipping merrily from language to language holding hands clasped tight with understanding. Their interaction is a wonderful, rich picture of friendship floating into love even as they deny that’s what’s happening.
I was surprised that Taylor was bisexual, and one of her sources of conflict with Lee was Lee’s insecurity about it. Readers who have dealt with biphobia in their own lives may find Taylor’s stirring defense and rebuttal validating. When Lee wasn’t spouting vitriol she also spoke some very real truths: that masculine-presenting women often aren’t allowed to go about their lives without their hairstyle, clothing, etc. being read as some kind of deliberate statement. The way women like Lee dress and act has nothing to do with men, yet so many men see it as a blow to their specific ego.
The resolution was satisfying and a happy ending, but it’s not always necessarily obvious which relationship will win the way it is with some love triangles, so I’m not going to tell you! I think that shows deftness on the part of the author. The happy ending also has some ragged edges, but that just made it more realistic and believable for me.
TW for partner abuse within a f/f relationship, and for Lee’s past trauma.