Sunday, January 15, 2023

All That It Ever Meant by Blessing Musariri


I'm honestly shocked that ALL IT EVER MEANT has so few reviews because even though it's not a perfect book, it hits on so many tropes that are popular with the YA crowd that it seems like somebody didn't do their due marketing diligence. I mean, you have a story that explores how a family dynamic is affected with the loss of a parent. Mati, the middle child, ends up sort-of-but-not-really-coping by talking to a nonbinary entity named Meticais who might be a spirit or a ghost or a whatever, telling her story to them since she can't with her family. Chichi, the eldest daughter, starts acting out in every way she can, whether it's with substances or boys. And the youngest child, Tana, becomes clingy and anxious and needy. Eventually the dad is like, maybe ENGLAND is the problem (spoiler: England is always the problem) and he uplifts them all to return to his homeland in Zimbabwe, where they take a road trip, go on safari, and sleep in the car, before eventually attending school there.

There are some things that don't quite work. While I LOVE (love, love, love) dual timeline, here, it didn't quite work. I wish the author had marked them with "before" and "now" tags or something like that to make the transitions a little more clear-cut, because the way it was done, it was a little choppy and hard to follow and something like that might have eased the reader into things. Also-- not a lot is happening. This book is, first and foremost, a character-driven journey. There are some mysteries, like what Meticais is and why they're there, and what some of the precipitating events were that made the siblings act how they are now, but if you don't really care about the characters, I'm not sure it's enough to hook the reader.

Overall, I thought ALL THAT IT EVER MEANT was a really good debut. I enjoyed the unusual setting, the glimpse into what it is like being the child of immigrants in England, and the sometimes-toxic and not-so-healthy ways that people can deal with grief. CRYING IN H MART did this too and I really appreciated that, the normalization of people not taking death of a loved one well. Sometimes people do go off the rails. Trauma is hard. The magic-realism element also added a rather unique element to the story and I even had an "I'm not crying, YOU'RE crying" moment at the end.

Would recommend this book to people who enjoy Akwaeke Emezi and Rimma Onoseta.

Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy in exchange for an honest review!

3 out of 5 stars

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