As much as I cringe to say it, this book changed my life. ‘Girl, Woman, Other’ came to me at a time when I really needed it. At once inspiration, education and aspirational, I have a lingering sense of empowerment and challenge from turning the final page.
Name: Girl, Woman, Other
Author: Bernadine Evaristo
Published: May 2019
Teeming with life and crackling with energy – a love song to modern Britain and black womanhood
Girl, Woman, Other follows the lives and struggles of twelve very different characters. Mostly women, black and British, they tell the stories of their families, friends and lovers, across the country and through the years.
Joyfully polyphonic and vibrantly contemporary, this is a gloriously new kind of history, a novel of our times: celebratory, ever-dynamic and utterly irresistible.
Here are three truths: ‘Girl, Woman, Other’ is a book about 12 women. It is one of those intangible books that are very hard to describe. It is the best book I’ve ever read.
Do you cringe when people say that a book changed their life? It’s normally followed by gushing, maybe some tears, and always looks suspiciously like they’re being bribed by the author to say such a dramatic statement. But I can confidently say, firstly, I am not being bribed (although I would pay Bernadine Evaristo to bribe me) and secondly, that this book did change my life. No cringe needed. It educated me on feminism, black womanhood, marriage, immigration, sexuality, the education system… life itself really. ‘Girl, Woman, Other’ is an essential for any feminist’s reading list – or non-feminist; because you’ll undoubtedly be one when you turn the final page.
“Ageing is nothing to be ashamed of– GIRL WOMAN OTHER
Especially when the entire human race is in it together
Although sometimes it seems that she alone among her friends wants to celebrate getting older
Because it’s such a privilege to not die prematurely”
The book follows 12 women, whose stories are loosely interwoven in a web that spans over three generations and across Britain. At first, I was worried that all the stories would become similar in content, or at least in structure. But each one focuses on different joys or trials of being a black British woman and is so different to the last. There are opinions and life choices for everyone. Educational, inspirational and aspirational, the stories covered different perspectives fused often by feminism and always by this constant discovery of womanhood.
Personally, my favourite story was Amma’s because she’s the centerpiece of this book, I found her voice bitingly hilarious and I’m fascinated by the queer, rebellious underworld she was a part of. I loved how my opinion of her develops as other people’s views of her muddy the waters – plus, she seems really really cool. My other favorite stories were Bummi because Bernadine Evaristo created such an empathetic character and I just wanted her to succeed! I also loved Yazz, because as a teen, she felt intensely relatable; I was amazed with the fluidity that the author skimmed between different ages and opinions.
“white people are only required to represent themselves, not an entire race”– GIRL WOMAN OTHER
The characters are so strong they feel alive. Furthermore, with only 40 or so pages dedicated to each character, it’s truly incredible how much life spills out. My least favourite story was Winsome, because while I loved that Evaristo lets you come to your own conclusions (if not with an ironic undercurrent tugging you the way she desires), Winsome was… just a bit weird.
One warning: this book only has full stops at the end of chapters. As in, sentences go unchecked, and indents mark the end of them, not full stops. While some people don’t like the lack of punctuation (my mum thinks it shows ‘a lack of language’), I think it creates a powerful, strong voice. The lack of full stops create a sarcastic wit, heavy with irony, and the speech becomes vivid voices. Despite poets often overusing it, Evaristo uses short lines sparingly so it’s genuinely impactful. Self consciously hilarious, insightful, educational – utterly brilliant, ‘Girl, Woman, Other’ came to me at a time when I really needed it. I have a lingering sense of empowerment and challenge from turning the final page – it genuinely changed my life.
As Jane Austen once said, ‘If I loved you less, I might be able to talk about it more’. Maybe I’m just a sucker for Emma, but that feels particularly pertinent here. I found it hard to put into words how deeply this book affected me, but I hope I’ve enthused enough of my joy into you to make you read ‘Girl, Woman, Other’.
Who knows? It might just change your life.
While the diversity in my book recommendations is nowhere near perfect, I’m always trying to read books about challenging subjects. ‘Girl Woman Other’ is not a young adult book, but I mostly read YA and feel more confident recommending it. Young adult books I’d recommend that tackle racism include:
- Pet by Awaeke Emezi
- Lies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Talley
- Ace Of Spades by Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé
- The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
- Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds
- Noughts And Crosses by Malorie Blackman
- Yes No Maybe So by Becky Albertalli and Aisha Saeed
- Dear Martin by Nic Stone
- You Should See Me In A Crown by Leah Johnson
- A Very Large Expanse Of Sea by Tahereh Mafi
- Hani and Ishu’s Guide To Fake Dating by Adiba Jaigirdar