The Girl with the Louding Voice – the debut novel from Abi Daré – was one of my most anticipated books of winter 2020, and I was thrilled when it was a pick for Book of the Month in February. I just spent the last few days with it, and I can say it more than lives up to the hype and actually exceeded my expectations. It’s among the best books I’ve read this year, and it was brilliant from its first page all the way to its last.
It’s spring 2014 when The Girl with the Louding Voice begins. Adunni is a 14-year-old girl living in a small village in Nigeria, and her family is in poverty. Her mother died a few years ago, and her dad can barely afford to feed Adunni and her two brothers, let alone pay rent. So he does what most people in their town do: He sells her to be another man’s wife.
As the third wife of Morufu, Adunni is mostly safe, but it’s not a great existence. She fears the first wife, and her husband is strict and wants her to bear a son. Being his wife also puts Adunni farther away from her goals of going back to school. But one day tragedy strikes, and Adunni is on the run.
She ends up in Lagos, Nigeria’s biggest city, working as a maid (more like a slave) for a fearsome and powerful couple. Working there comes with its own set of dangers, and Adunni can’t help but wonder if the mystery sounding the previous maid’s disappearance may be a threat to her own life.
Even as she works to get at the truth, Adunni still has dreams of an education. And while she’s been through a lot of bad situations, and there are bad people still holding her back, Adunni also has new friends who lift her up and want to see her achieve her goals.
Before I even opened the book, I’d heard that The Girl with the Louding Voice is written in broken English. Indeed, it’s probably the first thing you’ll notice when you start reading it. Some people online have expressed difficulty in understanding it, but I actually found I was able to get used to it within just a few pages.
Although a lot of the grammar is wrong, she uses related but wrong words a lot, and some descriptions take a bit of imagination to get, it’s generally easy to understand what Adunni is trying to express. The broken English makes for a unique reading experience, and it makes Adunni come to life as a character.
Perhaps the best element in The Girl with the Louding Voice is Adunni herself. She’s an amazing narrator, with quick and perceptive observations of everything and everyone around her. She’s candid and pure, and this makes for some fun and funny comments. But she’s also sensitive, and you can feel her sadness and pain, especially in regards to her late mother.
Moreover, Adunni is inquisitive, and she has a persistent thirst for knowledge. Not only does she long for a chance to go back to school, she takes other opportunities to learn. Sometimes this means secretly reading her employers’ books – including an English dictionary – and sometimes this means eavesdropping on their political conversations. Any way she can, Adunni seeks to improve her language and gain new knowledge, because both will help liberate her.
The book shows Adunni in a lot of bad situations. From the death of her mother and living with very little, to being a wife at just 14, to working in a new city as a slave to violent people, Adunni faces a ton of hardships. But with all that holds her back and puts her in danger, she also has good people in her life. These friends are what keep The Girl with the Louding Voice from being too dramatic and sad. Instead, this is a book of hope and opportunity.
Indeed, in spite of it all, Adunni shines as a positive person. She’s happy and optimistic, and she never stops striving for something better. She’s an inspiring character that you’ll immediately root for. This positivity, coupled with the characters who help Adunni, make The Girl with the Louding Voice an uplifting novel.
One final element I loved in this book is how information on Nigeria is sprinkled throughout, often starting chapters. As Adunni learns about her own country, the readers also get to learn about Nigeria. I love that Abi Daré included this and helped make learning about another country fun and accessible, even to those of us who often choose fiction over nonfiction.
I could hardly put The Girl with the Louding Voice down, and even as I raced through the pages, I never wanted it to end. The characters and story are strong and memorable, and the way the book ends could actually set it up nicely for a sequel. Honestly, I really hope there will be a sequel, because I want to follow Adunni into the next chapter of her life and see what she accomplishes.
This debut novel is astounding and heart-warming, and I truly believe everyone should read it. I can’t wait to see what Abi Daré writes next, because she might be my new favorite author.