Where Women Are Kings (review)

Where Women Are Kings (NetGalley)
Christy Watson
Other Press

There are three places where women are kings …Nigeria, childbirth, and heaven–these are the places where anything is possible for women.

Elijah is a wizard. Not many little boys have wizards trying to creep out of their skin, and Elijah tries desperately to keep him in. Because the wizard uses its power to hurt the ones Elijah loves.  Mama and his papa moved to England Where Women Are Kingsfrom Nigeria shortly after their marriage. Like so many immigrants before them, they wanted a better life. But life away from Nigeria–“a place like heaven”—is far from idyllic. The flat is small and dirty, papa is gone to work and school for long hours, the neighbors are shifty, and Mama has begun to see the red car following her. And then tragedy strikes. Mama runs to Bishop Fortune at Deliverance Church for help, the wizard grows in Elijah, and Mama becomes very, very sick.

So then there were Gary and Sue and Linda and Pete and Nargis and Darren. The wizard, it seemed, couldn’t stay contained for long. At his last house there was a fire. But then Elijah came to live with Nikki and Obi. He had a Granddad, an Aunty Chanel, and a real cousin, Jasmin. (She was a girl, but still. And even better, “the wizard never woke up when she was near.”)

Nikki and Obi knew little about Elijah’s past, other than his birth mother was in Greenfields Women’s Psychiatric Hospital. That he had “thin scars in lines across his chest and back.” And there was that fire. Their social worker and play therapist navigate them through the adoption process and they grow to love this winsome little Nigerian boy with a terrible secret.

The characters in Christie Watson’s novel are spot on. Nikki and Obi love honestly and imperfectly. They worry. They read books like Parenting a Traumatized Child; Healing With Love;  Resilience and Outcomes. Granddad loves with an open heart and a big booming laugh. Chanel is a breath of fresh air as she tries to be so hip and inclusive it’s comical. There wasn’t a whole lot not to like in the novel.

Writer Christie Watson alternates telling Elijah’s story with Nikki and Obi and letters his Mama writes him from the hospital. Be forewarned: Watson’s story is heart-breaking, and as Elijah’s history unfolded it was difficult to read.

But it’s a story worth telling because sometimes love just isn’t enough.

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