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Merle

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Aya by Marguerite Abouet

Aya - Marguerite Abouet, Clément Oubrerie

My rating of this one may not be reliable, as I have little experience with graphic novels. I'm calling it 3.5, because I enjoyed it well enough.

 

This graphic novel is set in the urban Ivory Coast in the 1970s, following the (mis)adventures of three teenage girls from working-class families. Aya, our protagonist, is the responsible, studious one, with the result that she's often sidelined in favor of her more hedonistic friends.

 

The book's marketing is a little odd. Yes, it's a story set in Africa without war, famine and so on, but the introduction and blurbs build this period up as a golden age to the point that it starts to sounds like they're saying people living normal lives in Africa is a totally bizarre and fleeting phenomenon. Also, after consistently seeing the book referred to as "charming" and "lighthearted," I was surprised to find how much of the story revolves around promiscuity and sexual harassment. Aya's father tries to pick up a hooker by the side of the road after lying to her mom about it; her best friend goes out dancing (in a very sexual way) with another friend's father, and jumps into the back seat of a car with a boy who bores her the moment she discovers he has money; Aya herself, though uninterested in these shenanigans, is consistently harassed by men on the street and once almost assaulted by a random guy who apparently feels entitled to her attention by virtue of being male. There is certainly humor here, and I laughed out loud at least once, but it isn't all fun and games.

 

That said, I did enjoy the book. It is entertaining and easy to follow, the sizable cast all have distinct personalities, which seems pretty good for a graphic novel of under 100 pages, and the colorful illustrations do an excellent job of bringing the story and the setting to life. I am not in a rush to read the next in the series, but would be happy to do so at some point.