Thursday, February 23, 2023

The Attic Child by Lola Jaye


For Black History Month, I decided to read as many of the books by Black authors on my Kindle that I had, that I hadn't been able to get to during the rest of the year. One of these was THE ATTIC CHILD, a book I bought on a whim because the summary sounded so intriguing. It almost gave me FLOWERS IN THE ATTIC vibes, only without the breathless sensationalism, instead being more historically focused.

THE ATTIC CHILD is a dual-timeline story about two children who both have their own trauma to bear. In the early 20th century, our narrator is Dikembe/Celestine, a boy who is taken from the Congo to be a companion to a British explorer. In the "present" timeline, set in the early 90s, our narrator is Lowra, a young woman who works as a cleaner but is forcibly thrust back into her past when she finds out that her stepmother has passed and her childhood home has fallen to her.

I don't want to say too much because it will spoil the book because part of the fun is how the two timelines converge and what really became of Dikembe. But there was so much about this book that I loved: the immersive storylines, the way it talks about trauma, how history gets whitewashed and how one culture's "heroes" can be another's oppressor's, and also so many important and interesting dialogues on racism, internalized racism, colorism, and microaggressions. Also, there's a little bit of a romance between Lowra and a bumbling Black professor who has a penchant for cheese and pickle sandwiches and I STAN IT.

For most of this book, I was thinking FIVE STARS! FIVE STARS! FIVE STARS! But the ending started to really drag at 80%. Part of what kept me turning pages like a fiend was my emotional investment in the storylines of both characters and wanting to find out what happened to Dikembe. I would say that the ending is ultimately a happy and touching one, but it took a while to get there. Also major trigger warnings for racism and child abuse. The author doesn't get too graphic or go into detail, and the worst stuff is hinted at, but it's still disturbing and upsetting. 

Also, if you, like me, were wondering if Celestine/Dikembe was based off an actual historical figure, read the afterword. There's an author's note where Jaye talks about a photograph she saw that partially inspired her book and why she decided to set the book in the Congo in the beginning. 

Overall, this was just a really great thriller/historical fiction/lit-fic hybrid and I'm SO glad I randomly took a chance on it. I hope the author writes another book very, very soon!

4 to 4.5 out of 5 stars

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