Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Between Sisters

Between Sisters by Adwoa Badoe 2010 ARC
Groundwood Books

Rating: 2.5/5

IQ "'English is important. [...]As stupid as it sounds, this language makes all the difference in Ghanaian life-who you'll associate with, which kind of person you're likely to marry, where you can travel, what kind of opportunities your kids will have. It's amazing what reading and writing somebody's language can do for you in this strange world.' [Christine]
English was the difference between the Somebodies who lived in the suburbs of the cities and the Nobodies of the many villages between Accra and Kumasi. [Gloria]" (pg. 99)

Gloria Bampo is sixteen years old and she has just failed thirteen out of fifteen subjects on her final exams. These exams would have allowed her to get a higher education, if she had done well. Now she faces a hard life in Accra, Ghana. Her father is unemployed, her mother has a mysterious illness and Gloria's older sister (Effie) is too busy with boyfriends and catering school to pay attention to Gloria. Gloria wanted to be a singer or a fashion designer, but that does not seam likely. However, a distant relative shows up and offers to pay for dressmaking school for Gloria. In return Gloria must cook and clean for Christine and babysit her son. Christine lives in Kumasi which is a big city. Gloria soon faces the temptation of being in a new and big city. She isn't so sure she can handle it all.

I didn't like that this novel didn't explore the relationship between Gloria and her sister, Effie. It's called Between Sisters but it rarely addressed the blood sister relationship. Instead it focuses on the relationship between Gloria and her so-close-they-could-be-sisters, employer, Christine. Effie is basically regulated to the background, we meet her in the beginning and she briefly re-appears in the end. Most of the minor characters are treated the same way, they make brief appearances to move the story along and then disappear. Many storylines are left unresolved or are solved in a hurry towards the end. Also the writing is fairly simplistic and although the story moves quickly, it couldn't hold my attention. This may be due to my lack of patience with people who are more naive when it comes to cities and all the dangers that come with them. It seemed like the book was written solely to educate people about modern-day Ghana.

That being said, I really enjoyed reading about present day life in Ghana. I expected life in the country to be different form life in America, but even the city life was different (although more similar to life in America). The difference between life in Accra (the country) and Kumasi (the city) is striking and most be even more startling than making that transition in America. I also liked how ambitious Gloria was. I also appreciated that she at first, she doesn't seem very smart. People looked down on her for failing her exams, but she is smart. She just doesn't always use her head. However, she knows what she wants and when she receives the opportunity to get closer to her dream, she is happy to seize the chance. The character of Christine is fleshed out well, but Christine is more of a main character anyway. She's a doctor and she's trying very hard to guide Gloria. She encourages her to get an education, work hard and fall her dreams. She's also funny (although it might have been unintentional). "Abroad, they give girls like you condoms to carry in their purses against pregnancy and AIDS. This is Ghana. We don't do such things. Your condom is your mind. Use it when your boyfriends are making suggestions" (pg. 57). I laughed out loud at that line, it makes sense, although I don't think it's the best piece of advice. I do wish we learned more about Christine and the situation with her husband. I didn't understand it because Gloria didn't understand it so the situation is never explained in concise terms.

In all honesty the only reason I liked Between Sisters was because of it's setting. I liked that it took place in modern Ghana and chronicled the transition from small town to city through the eyes of a teenage girl. Gloria is a character that I could relate to on some levels, but not on all. However, this might be due to our different situations and my impatience at her naivety towards frenemies, boys/men, money, etc. I hope to see more books for teenagers set in countries all the world. It is very cool to read about the similar experiences and different perspectives teens in other countries hold. It's a small step towards globalization :)

Disclosure: Traded with Lyn. Reviewed for Multicultural Review. Thanks Lyn!


  1. Thanks for the interesting review.

    I have enjoyed reading a lot of African literature.It's a great shame that it is not more easily accessible to young people in Africa. I have found books there to be proportionately a lot more expensive. (I took a consignment to a township school in South Africa once, with support from the XPress and Heinemann.)

    But back to your review. Thanks for your honesty in pointing out flaws as well as the positives. I think I'll skip Between Sisters.

  2. I too appreciate your honest reviews. Think I will probably skip this one as well.


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