The strongest writing lies in the more serious passages. Jonathan, a friend of Joanie’s, gets involved with a white man who treats him callously. We are given only Jonathan’s side of their exchanges, so that his hurt feelings resound in a sort of echo chamber. “Do you have to? Right now? Okay, that’s fine. No, don’t apologise …” This is fiction as sculpture: skilfully paring down a scene to reveal the shape of the pain hidden within.
A teenage narrator or central character is a significant but not clinching consideration. The Private Joys of Nnenna Maloney by Okechukwu Nzelu, despite its YA-ish title and bold cover foregrounding the titular teen, focuses much of its witty narrative on Nnenna’s parents. There’s a cardinal rule in YA about treating parents as Other and keeping the focus on the teenage point of view. Adulthood is another country; they do things differently there. For this reason we must regretfully discount this well-written tale.