Earlier this year, I loved Ties That Tether, the debut novel by Jane Igharo. Since then, I’ve been counting down the days to when her second book, The Sweetest Remedy, would be available. Luckily for us all, it was included in Book of the Month‘s September box this month, meaning we got to read The Sweetest Remedy a few weeks before it hit shelves on September 28th (tomorrow!).
|The Sweetest Remedy by Jane Igharo|
|Genre||Contemporary Fiction; Drama; Romance|
|Setting||Lagos, Nigeria; San Francisco, CA, USA|
|Number of Pages||300|
|Format I Read||Hardcover (BOTM)|
|Original Publication Date||September 28, 2021|
When a woman travels to Nigeria to attend the funeral of the father she never knew, she meets her extravagant family for the first time, a new and inspiring love interest, and discovers parts of herself she didn’t know were missing, from Jane Igharo, the acclaimed author of Ties That Tether.
Hannah Bailey has never known her father, the Nigerian entrepreneur who had a brief relationship with her white mother. Because of this, Hannah has always felt uncertain about part of her identity. When her father dies, she’s invited to Nigeria for the funeral. Though she wants to hate the man who abandoned her, she’s curious about who he was and where he was from. Searching for answers, Hannah boards a plane to Lagos, Nigeria.
In Banana Island, one of Nigeria’s most affluent areas, Hannah meets the Jolades, her late father’s prestigious family—some who accept her and some who think she doesn’t belong. The days leading up to the funeral are chaotic, but Hannah is soon shaped by secrets that unfold, a culture she never thought she would understand or appreciate, and a man who steals her heart and helps her to see herself in a new light.
When I read Jane Igharo’s debut, Ties That Tether, it struck me as a romance that leans heavily into contemporary fiction and drama. The Sweetest Remedy incorporates those same genres, but the emphasis is switched. Here, it is first and foremost a contemporary fiction drama, but leaning heavily into romance. For me, this book never quite achieves the right balance between the genres and would have benefited from a greater page length. There is a lot going on, and at barely 300 pages, it would have been improved by either cutting a plot point or offering more time to explore the themes; I’d vote for the latter.
At its core, The Sweetest Remedy is about a biracial woman, Hannah, who never knew her father in his lifetime. It’s not until he passes away and she’s invited to his funeral that she has an opportunity to know his entire side of the family. Upon arriving in Nigeria, Hannah faces three half-sisters, a half-brother, and their mother, grandmother, and aunt – all of whom never knew Hannah even existed. Naturally, they’re shocked, but equally naturally, some are angry. Indeed, Hannah wouldn’t exist if her father hadn’t cheated on his wife. Further, he kept her a secret for 28 years, all the way until his death.
Hannah is going through a lot of feelings – about her dad, about her long-lost siblings, about her new extended family, even about her Nigerian culture and about her white mom. She feels (and is made to feel) like she doesn’t belong; she’s uncovering memories and lies and half-truths. But she’s also making connections with some of her family members and having a great time with them.
Between Tiwa, Shola, Dami, and Segun (Hannah’s four half-siblings), only two of them accept her readily. Their mother is also cold at first, whereas their grandmother and aunt are both warm and inviting. We get some glimpses into the different family members’ perspectives – some of them get third-person POV chapters of their own – and have a chance to understand why they react as they do. But while some are likable characters, at least one family member is particularly immature and unlikable (at least for a while).
As Hannah goes through the highs and lows of interacting with her different relatives, she reveals herself to be an interesting and, ultimately, realistic characters. She’s not completely consistent in how she acts, but that’s human. Sometimes she’s strong and sticks up for herself when someone treats her badly or makes a false accusation. Other times, she instantly reacts by running away from the problem or immediately assuming the worst of someone. We get to see her insecurities and traumas and how they’ve shaped her, but also how they can be at odds with some of her other traits.
That sums up the contemporary fiction / drama aspect of The Sweetest Remedy. But this is also a romance, if to a slightly lesser degree. Hannah and Lawrence (who himself is heavily involved with her Nigerian family, though not a relation of hers) quickly develop an attraction to and feelings for one another. It’s a bit insta-love for my taste, but I do think their relationship adds to the story and helps Hannah connect with her culture and her family. Lawrence is a soothing presence that prevents Hannah from completely running away before the funeral. He also shows her another side of Nigeria – both the poor area in Lagos where he grew up and a beautiful state further south in the country.
Although I enjoyed their romance, it was hard for me to be fully invested in both that relationship and Hannah’s family drama. (It’s also weird timing for love, with the funeral and all.) I wouldn’t get rid of the romance, but I do think The Sweetest Remedy is too short to fully expound on both the family relations and the blossoming romance. Further, several spats Hannah has with her siblings seem to smooth over too swiftly and easily to feel realistic to me. Again, perhaps if the story were longer, those dynamics would have played out more gradually and naturally.
Beyond the familial and romantic relationships, there are other elements in The Sweetest Remedy that stand out. For one, I enjoyed getting to see different sides of Nigeria. I love when Hannah and Lawrence take a trip to Akwa Ibom, a state in southern Nigeria. They aren’t there long, but the scenery sounds beautiful. Most of the book is set in Lagos, specifically in the affluent Banana Island region. In contrast, Hannah also sees a poorer area of the city, Ajegunle. I appreciated seeing these different sides of Lagos and Nigeria overall. Like anywhere else, there are major differences in how people live, even in the same city.
On a related note, I also liked seeing some examination of the wealth gap and how differences in class can lead to such disparities in how people live. Of course, Banana Island and Ajegunle are worlds apart. But even Hannah is shocked at how wealthy her new family is. While Hannah would never be able to afford a $3,000 dress, her new sister buys her that – and much more – without blinking an eye. Contrast their family mansion with Hannah’s one-bedroom apartment. Her family isn’t heartless, and they do have generous charities, but I would have liked to see even more about class differences.
Another theme that comes up a few times throughout the book is racism and, in particular, the struggles faced by someone who is biracial (like Hannah) or racially ambiguous. In the first chapter, an oblivious and racist man wonders what Hannah’s ethnicity is and tries to guess. This happens again later in the book, and it’s cringy both times. Hannah’s race also ends up playing a role in something much bigger.
There is a lot I loved about The Sweetest Remedy, from the family dynamics and Hannah’s character growth to discussions of racism and classism, from the chance to see Nigeria in a new light to the gentle romance between Hannah and Lawrence. It is a lot for a 300-page book, though, and I do wish there was more room to develop both the familial relationships and the romantic ones. Adding 50 or more pages could have made it feel more balanced and more complete.
I love how Jane Igharo incorporates drama with romance, and both of her novels so far do so in their own ways. She’s a talented and perceptive writer, and I look forward to reading all of her future books. I hope to read more stories set in Nigeria, but I’ll happily go wherever her books take me!
About the Author
Jane Abieyuwa Igharo was born in Nigeria and immigrated to Canada at the age of twelve. She has a journalism degree from the University of Toronto and works as a communications specialist in Ontario, Canada.
She writes about strong, audacious, beautifully flawed Nigerian women much like the ones in her life. When she isn’t writing, she’s watching “Homecoming” for the hundredth time and trying to match Beyoncé’s vocals to no avail.