Daughters Who Walk This Path is Yejide Kilanko's first novel. It's centered on Morayo, a Nigerian girl who is bright, fun, and grows up surrounded by a big family and many friends. When she is about 12 years old, Morayo's cousin Bros T moves in with her family. Bros T is tall, handsome, and charming, but he's also in trouble. He was kicked out of school, was caught stealing from his own family, and seems a little too touchy-feely with Morayo and her sister. Bros T sexually abuses Morayo, and even after she speaks out and he is forcibly removed from her home, the horrors of her experience continue to shape Morayo's life.
It's hard to make a book about surviving rape sound anything but depressing, but this book is not depressing. Yes, there are depressing scenes. But there is also so much depth and love and forgiveness and passion and strength here, and I don't want you to miss it because you're nervous about one aspect of the book. I was nervous about it, too, but I am very glad I read this one.
Daughters Who Walk This Path is a very honest book. Not only does it show us Morayo's struggles to come to terms with what happened to her, but it shows everyone else's difficulties, too. Her parents are horrified and sickened, but neither of them can find the words to tell Morayo how they feel. Her mother tries, but just can't do it. So instead, her mother enlists the help of a cousin who went through a similar experience and begs her to become a support to Morayo. While it saddened me that Morayo's mother never overcame her own problems enough to help her daughter, I thought it was pretty realistic, and it was good that she found another way to help her daughter. Morayo's friends don't know anything about what happened to her, but they notice their friend acting differently and don't know why she's pulling away. Morayo doesn't tell them. Morayo's younger sister deals with her guilt about not saying anything for so long by studying to become a doctor. And Morayo's aunt Morenike, who went through her own traumatizing experience, works constantly to help heal her niece.
One of the tensest scenes in the book takes place at a bus stop, when armed guards come and harass Morenike in front of many people who can do nothing to help her. Morayo learns that even adult women, educated and clever and strong as her aunt Morenike is, are not safe. It's a stark and terrifying reminder that you can work so hard and do so much good in the world but so much of what might happen to you is not in your control.
What I appreciated about this book was its acceptance of the many different paths that women take to heal and just how long it can take. It's a very personal, internal journey and that was made clear here. Morenike, for example, fell in love with a man but did not marry him because of her own emotional baggage. Morayo slept around with countless men, mostly because she savored the power it gave her - she enjoys feeling like she has the upper hand in these situations after being powerless for so long. One time, though, she goes too far, and her realization that she has become something of a monster, too, was one of the the strongest points in the novel.
I mentioned earlier that this book has much more to it than the heavy nature of a woman struggling to overcome a horrible experience. And it's true. While Morayo's fight is the basis of the book and its most important theme, there is so much else happening. There are bright descriptions of growing up in a small Nigerian town, the joys and pitfalls of having a large family. There is an election with an idealistic young man who wants to change the world going against a corrupt, spiteful chieftain who buys his votes with fear and free food. There's a woman's first taste of independence in college, making new friends and learning so many new things. Morayo's first job - her thrill at getting a paycheck dampened by the sexism she faces there. This novel is so rich with cultural insights and women's issues and Morayo's allusions to feminist African authors and playwrights has added several books to my reading list. Recommended.