by Asha Bromfield
Published May 4, 2021
by Wednesday Books
Rating: 4 Stars ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Genre: Contemporary Fiction; Young Adult
Tilla is a young woman, recently turned eighteen, living in Canada with her mother and nine year-old sister, Mia. Their father spends part of the year in Canada with them but the majority of his time is spent in his home country of Jamaica. The girls are planning to spend a summer with their father in Jamaica, giving them an opportunity to see where they come from and to meet more of their family.
Almost immediately, Tilla feels unwelcome in Jamaica. Her family lives in the country and the disparity between her lower class Canadian “wealth” and her Jamaican family’s poverty is staggering. Moreover, she’s seen as a “foreign princess” – spoiled, bratty, and worst of all, slutty. Nothing Tilla does or says seems to be right, and as she tries to find her place in Jamaica and among her family members, she experiences discrimination, hardship, love, and a true finding of herself.
This was a fantastic debut that I highly recommend. I’m not a reader who can visualize what I’m reading very often but something in the way Bromfield described the lush landscape of Jamaica, the juicy fruit plucked right from the trees, and the cascading waterfalls simply transported me to the island and created vivid images in my mind.
I loved the coming of age aspect of this novel. Oftentimes, I felt frustrated with Tilla’s decisions and self-deprecation, though it felt authentic when I tried to think back on myself at 18 years old. The hostility and resentment directed toward Tilla was brutal and often incited anger within me, though I felt that most of the time she handled herself fairly maturely. Not sure I could have had that restraint with Aunt Herma!
I thought Bromfield did a phenomenal job addressing major social issues such as privilege, racism, and sexim in a sensitive and eye-opening way. In Canada, Tilla was ashamed of her clothing from WalMart and was considered lower class, but in Jamaica, where many of her cousins wore tattered hand me downs from other sibling and cousins, she appeared spoiled and rich. Tilla’s lack of understanding of these disparities in wealth, privilege, and opportunity shone through most of the novel, but her growth in this area was also great to see. I felt that it also really helped to define “privilege.” So many people don’t recognize their own privileges and focus only on what they don’t have or their shortcomings, but when taken in the bigger context, they may actually be quite privileged when compared to others.
Regarding racism, the discrimination against darker skinned Jamaicans was pervasive and blatant and the family’s treatment of Andre was often difficult to read. I had first read about something similar in The Vanishing Half and appreciated that Bromfield tackled this sensitive and extremely relevant subject in Hurricane Summer as well. I think by showing the impact of racism on the Jamaican community, it helps demonstrate how systemic racism truly is. It was shocking learning that Andre was not only targeted and abused because of his darker skin color by the people who were supposed to love him most, but that he was also denied opportunities for education because of it. I really appreciated Tilla’s anger and call to action about Andre’s treatment, and how she called out the hypocrisy later on in the novel as well.
Finally, Bromfield did an exceptional job highlighting the sexism Tilla faced while in Jamaica too. Because she was a woman, and an attractive one from another country, she was often identified as a slut and as promiscuous. Just by being kind or friendly, Tilla was given a poor reputation. The difference in treatment of Tilla versus her younger sister Mia really highlighted how Tilla’s womanhood and sexuality was being weaponized against her. This was a central theme to the story and the growth Tilla experienced here was empowering.
Because of the powerful topics, this is definitely one that would be excellent for a book club or buddy read. I loved that not only was this a magical and enjoyable read, but one with deeper messages and powerful themes. The writing was stellar (the use of Patois added SO much to the story and to the characters), the storyline complex but well executed, and the characters beautifully developed.
If you’re a fan of Elizabeth Acevedo, particularly her novel Clap When You Land, this is a book that you absolutely cannot miss.
Thank you to Wednesday Books and NetGalley for a copy of this exceptional novel.