Xolo Score 3.75/5
Nikki May’s debut novel, Wahala, centers its story on Ango-Nigerian friends, Boo, Ronke, and Simi. Each friend is British, Brown, and struggles with their own “daddy issues.” But over the years, these three friends bonded over their mixed-race identity and continuously supported and uplifted each other. But when Simi’s childhood friend Isobel moves to London, she very quickly sews cracks into the group’s seemingly unbreakable friendship.
*** SPOILERS AHEAD ***
In Wahala, Nikki May sets the center stage for the complex lived experiences of three Anglo-Nigerian friends living in London. Although they share much in common, each friend has done their best to grapple with their mixed-race identity and their respective childhood trauma. As adults Boo, Ronke, and Simi all live and strive for different lifestyles, but they can strive and succeed despite these traumas. Though the friends pass harsh judgment on each other for making diverting life choices, they still love each other deeply and are willing to stand by each other when needed.
Nikki May excels in writing BIPOC characters’ struggles of living with the white gaze while avoiding the white gaze herself. When it comes to Boo, Ronke, and Simi, each friend is dissatisfied and defensive about their life choices. As multicultural and multiracial women, their seemingly successful lives are at odds with how they feel inside and see themselves. And a lot of that internal conflict comes from the subtle and overt racial traumas in childhood and early adulthood. Ronke uses food and cooking to cope with her flaky boyfriend and her grief. Boo internalized a lot of racism during the isolation she experienced as the only mixed-race person in her hometown. And Simi constantly grapples with imposter syndrome for the success she has found in her career and personal life. And the friends’ dissatisfaction and defensiveness come out in the quick judgments they secretly have of each other that Isobel efficiently exploits
Although Nikki Mau avoids writing these BIPOC characters through the white gaze, the novel does very little to challenge the white-centered beliefs that they’ve internalized. Boo, Ronke, and Simi judge each other based on their appearances, weight, careers, families, and mental health. It’s also unfortunate that Kayode, Ronke’s boyfriend, is written as the unreliable partner and is the only one of the boyfriends who is Black. Nikki May does not have to take on the pressure and labor to challenge these beliefs in her novel about a crumbling friendship, but you wish the friends were kinder to themselves and each other.
Wahala is a fun and stressful novel about interracial relationships, multicultural identity, and how judgments will tear apart friendships.
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