"Aya" by Marguerite Abouet

1978 is a golden time in Ivory Coast, a time of stability and affluence.  In working-class Yopougan, also known as Yop City, the open-air bars and discos are thriving, the holidays are soon to come, and everyone is upbeat.  But this time may not last forever.

Nineteen-year-old Aya is a studious girl, determined to make good in life.  Along with her friends Adjoua and Bintou, she navigates Yop City with joy and laughter, trying to stay out of the gaze of nosy relatives and neighbours.  At night, young adults gather in the market square for clandestine meetings with secret lovers.  But for one young couple, what happens at the square will quickly become known by everyone and relationships and friendships will be tested.

Aya is a beautiful graphic novel written by Marguerite Abouet and illustrated by Clément Oubrerie.  The story of a girl making her way in the world, and along with her friends enjoying the typical teenage life.

About Aya, Marguerite Abouet said, “…I wanted to show in Aya: an Africa without the…war and famine, an Africa that endures despite everything because, as we say back home, life goes on.”  This has been achieved.  This is a stunning graphic novel that could take place anywhere in the world and Aya, Adjoua, and Bintou could be growing up anywhere.  This is a story about everyday life in an urban setting, with people who are working hard and having fun, struggling and succeeding.  The book is also beautiful to look at.  It is warm and vibrant and the colours make the illustrations jump off of the page.

This book breaks the mould of books set in Africa that we often see in the West, and there needs to be more of that.  As I mentioned before, this could be set anywhere.  It’s a story we see and time and again, of teenage girls, of first loves, of relationship and family troubles but the Ivorian culture and the beautiful illustrations elevate this book.  The glossary of terms at the end, along with recipes and other cultural information is an asset and such a wonderful addition to the book.

You’ll laugh with this book and you will become attached to the characters.  This is actually the first in the series and you will find yourself at the end of it wanting the next one right away.  


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