Every Body Looking
Every Body Looking

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Annotation: Candice Iloh weaves the key moments of Ada's young life-her mother's descent into addiction, her father's attempts to create a home for his American daughter more like the one he knew in Nigeria, her first year at a historically black college-into a luminous and inspiring verse novel.
Catalog Number: #216752
Format: Perma-Bound Edition from Publisher's Hardcover
All Formats: Search
Publisher: Penguin
Copyright Date: 2020
Edition Date: 2020
Pages: 403 pages
Availability: Available
ISBN: Publisher: 0-525-55620-6 Perma-Bound: 0-7804-8080-5
ISBN 13: Publisher: 978-0-525-55620-6 Perma-Bound: 978-0-7804-8080-3
Dewey: Fic
Dimensions: 21 cm.
Language: English
Reviews:
Kirkus Reviews
A Black girl’s journey from a stifled life to self-discovery through dance.Seventeen-year-old Ada grew up in Chicago with a Nigerian immigrant father who raised her in line with his strict, traditional Christian values. Her mother struggled with addiction and was mostly absent, both physically and emotionally. Ada was indoctrinated to be submissive to her elders and learned to suppress vital parts of herself, from her opinions to her love of dance. Brought up to keep so much of her life a secret, Ada has even kept quiet about a tragic sexual assault at the hands of her older male cousin. She is finally given the physical freedom she had been denied her whole life when she graduates high school and heads to college in Washington, D.C. There, she starts to unpack what she has been taught by her dysfunctional family and begins to bloom and unlock those guarded parts of herself. In the end, Ada reclaims her body and her life through dance, exploring her own beliefs and values and finding her voice. Iloh uses verse beautifully to show readers the world through Ada’s eyes, incorporating flashbacks and time jumps to piece the whole picture together. With complex relationship dynamics and heavy-hitting issues like rape, overbearing and neglectful parents, and addiction, this book will leave readers deeply affected.A young woman’s captivating, sometimes heartbreaking, yet ultimately hopeful story about coming into her own. (Verse novel. 14-18)
School Library Journal
Gr 7 Up Ada, pronounced Aah-dah!, means "first daughter" in Igbo and, as Ada shares, such a name carries the heavy weight of expectations. Written in verse, Ada's narrative unfurls from her high school graduation, then jumps around in time while she navigates her early college days at an HBCU, dipping in and out of scenes from first, second, and sixth grades. Pivotal and sometimes wrenching episodes are seared into each of these time periods, from sexual abuse in first grade to a betrayal of her privacy by an aunty who arrives from Nigeria in sixth grade. Iloh poignantly captures the tension and jagged emotion required for Ada to juggle her needy and absent mother with the heavy expectations of her father, all while trying to figure out who she really wants to be. Amidst all this uncertainty and seeking lies dance. While Dad is the one to introduce Ada to dance lessons to connect her to his home country, it is the deep desire for movement that consumes Ada and begins to pull her in the opposite direction of his more practical aspirations for her. VERDICT Readers will be left wishing they could accompany Ada as she pursues her passion and finds her way to a genuine relationship, while left hopeful and inspired by her beautifully-told story. Jill Heritage Maza, Montclair Kimberley Academy, NJ
Starred Review for Kirkus Reviews
A Black girl’s journey from a stifled life to self-discovery through dance.Seventeen-year-old Ada grew up in Chicago with a Nigerian immigrant father who raised her in line with his strict, traditional Christian values. Her mother struggled with addiction and was mostly absent, both physically and emotionally. Ada was indoctrinated to be submissive to her elders and learned to suppress vital parts of herself, from her opinions to her love of dance. Brought up to keep so much of her life a secret, Ada has even kept quiet about a tragic sexual assault at the hands of her older male cousin. She is finally given the physical freedom she had been denied her whole life when she graduates high school and heads to college in Washington, D.C. There, she starts to unpack what she has been taught by her dysfunctional family and begins to bloom and unlock those guarded parts of herself. In the end, Ada reclaims her body and her life through dance, exploring her own beliefs and values and finding her voice. Iloh uses verse beautifully to show readers the world through Ada’s eyes, incorporating flashbacks and time jumps to piece the whole picture together. With complex relationship dynamics and heavy-hitting issues like rape, overbearing and neglectful parents, and addiction, this book will leave readers deeply affected.A young woman’s captivating, sometimes heartbreaking, yet ultimately hopeful story about coming into her own. (Verse novel. 14-18)
Starred Review ALA Booklist
*Starred Review* High school's finally over, and Ada's off to college at an HBCU 697 miles away from her home on Chicago's North Side. No longer is she bound by her father's incessant prayers, his imposition of a God she is not even entirely sure she will continue to follow. Nor is Ada subject to the delicate handling of her temperamental mother or managing her far too predictable outbursts. But with thousands of miles between them, and the freedom to finally be herself, Ada reckons with the weight of her life's experiences and long-suppressed desires as college life messily unfolds. Her magic, though, is found in dance, where her body is free to say all of the things that her mouth hasn't yet had the boldness to. In her debut novel in verse, Iloh delicately crafts Ada's life, meshing her understanding of herself in the experiences of her past. This effectively oscillates readers through time, with the narrative voice sometimes dating back to early childhood, imparting deep underlying knowledge of the values she was taught, the cultures that shaped her, and the traumas she can't quite let go. This title references substance abuse and sexual assault of a minor, each instance adding devastating complexity to the woman Ada eventually becomes. This book is a testament to the beauty of Black girls, their circumstances, bodies, and cultures. A title to read slowly, this is a captivating read, with even more depth imbued in the formatting and play with white space.
Reviewing Agencies: - Find Other Reviewed Titles
Starred Review ALA Booklist (8/1/20)
Starred Review for Kirkus Reviews
Reading Level: 5.0
Interest Level: 7-12
GRADUATION DAY


Just look at me

they got me out here

wearing a dress

heels

makeup

 

hope Mama's proud

 

she sure does look like it

looking at me and squealing

like proud mamas do when

their baby looks something

 

like she came from them

 

her squeals bounce

from every wall of this hotel lobby

her screams shake from

her fragile body exploding

 

like she's shocked by her own joy

 

unsteady heels click

against the tile toward the person she can say

was the best thing she ever did

with her life


Here's the scene: I'm seventeen and graduating

from high school

and this weekend I learn to juggle

 

my father and his new wife

are on their way to the Home of the Chicago Doves

 

decked out, like they're about to glide down the church's red carpet

him in his crispiest suit, her bulging from a flowered dress

 

my baby brother dressed

as Dad's mini identical twin

 

belted in the back seat

of my father's golden Toyota Camry

 

is giddy knowing nothing

about what day it is

 

or how his big sister

will survive it

 

after picking up her own mommy

keeping her seated somewhere

 

she can fidget

far from his side of the family


Mama fidgets

in my passenger seat

more on edge than me

maybe cause it's been

like five years since we've seen

each other but she is here

 

scoffs under her breath

thinking, just like her

this hoopty is proof

of yet another thing

I don't need

 

shrugs away small thoughts

not knowing

Dad demanded

I save and buy my first Camry

myself

 

sits and tugs

at her lopsided wig

pulls down the mirror

reapplies bloodred lipstick

smudges some on her cheeks

with her fingers

 

and I thank god knowing

without this

I may not

recognize her


We pull into my high school's parking lot

for the last day I will ever have to smile at these people like I ever belonged here / for the ten minutes it takes Mama and me to get to the stands along the football field, a place she has never seen / I imagine the sounds of our heels to be / like a song we are for once dancing to together / today / I'm not angry / at her slurred speech / I'm not angry / at her missing teeth / I'm not angry / at her fuss / I'm not angry / that she looks nothing like / the last time I saw her / or that / I don't know when the next time will be / for the ten minutes it takes Mama and me to get to the stands along the football field / I'm just happy we're both here / alive


My name is Ada

but not really

it's what my father's side

calls me cause I was born

 

first

 

and on this day

I'm only three months

from leaving this place behind

 

they tell me there's

a big world out there

and they tell me

 

there's so much I can do

and I know nothing

but this city

 

but my father

but these schools

where I've always

 

been one of few specks

of dingy brown

in a sea of perfect white

 

but I know the bible

and I know how to do

 

the right things

 

so how hard could college

really be


How hard could it be to

   1. Find a dress that both Mama and Dad would like.
   2. Make sure the dress was loose enough to hide all my heavy.
   3. Put on heels I could stand for more than three hours.
   4. Pick Mama up in my own car.
   5. Get Mama to my soon-to-be old school.
   6. Sit Mama somewhere I could see her.
   7. Run back and forth between Mama and Dad.
   8. Smile for every camera.
   9. Smile with Mama.
   10. Smile when Mama insists that she be the first, after it's over, to have dinner with me.

Dad smiles for his final picture with me

loosening the awkward grip

tightly held on the outside

of my right arm

 

his sharp signature cologne

left to linger across

my shoulders

 

a scent just as strong

as the bass

in the shifting tone of his voice

 

proud of you, Kid

you did good

he says

 

as if I'd done

my entire high school bid

just now, all in one day

 

thanks, Dad

I smile back, bashful

warm under the way

 

he looks at me

on the days

I do right

 

standing back I look

at the softness peeking through

thick folds of my father's face

 

watch yet another attempt

to pull his belted suit pants

over the bottom of his round belly

 

now at the end of a long day

under the football field sun with beads of sweat

faithfully dabbed across his widow's peak

 

by an old white cloth always tucked

in his back pocket basking in the praise

of his job well done



After the pictures are done

caught back and forth

on opposite sides

of the crowded field

 

buzzing with families proud

of children

they don't really know

 

we pull into the driveway

as the sky surrounding Dad's house

is deepening toward black from gray

 

Mama glances toward

his front door and back

toward the road behind us

 

scared

 

I think to place a hand

on her trembling shoulder

but settle for telling her it's okay, Mom

 

tell her we'll be a minute

tell her I just need to change

tell her they're not home yet

 

but Dad's house is my house too



Mama looks back at me

wanting too much

 

to see where I live

but too proud to admit

she needs my permission

 

stares into the side of my face

hungry for any scrap

I might drop for her to catch

 

reaches for my hand

as I lift it just in time

from the gear stick for her to miss

 

shifting my foot

from the brake pedal

checking my phone for the time

 

I tell Mama

we've got thirty minutes

before my father and that woman

 

come home



Some kids grew up coming home

to the smell of mustard greens

special recipe mac and cheese

cornbread from scratch and cookies

baking in the oven

 

to the sound of their mama

screamin at somebody on the tv

getting on her nerves for the tenth time

while she watches the same shows

 

announcing to the whole house

that this will be

the last time I trip

over a child's raggedy school shoes

 

or telling them you better

clean up that funky alleyway

that you like to call

your bedroom

 

some kids grew up

being asked about

why their grades ain't

better than that and fussin

over homework they need to do

 

but my mama

was different

my mama just

wasn't reallythe type

 

To keep tabs on me like that

wasn't really my mama's style I learned years ago

when she started asking me my age

 

I'd look back at her and wonder

how she could forget when she had me

 

how she could push out a whole person

and just forget



Mama and I both forget

about time the minute I turn the key

unlocking the front door to Dad's house

 

suddenly it's like we're surrounded

by a museum of forbidden family

 

knowing she can look but not touch

Mama is everywhere her feet

 

take her wanting to see what we've

been up to while she's away

 

the walls covered with me at every age

that she struggles to remember

 

Mama getting lost in all the picture frames

my fancy life of birthday parties and school plays

 

my first dance recital on a park stage

dressed in colorful West African cloth like the other girls

 

a buzz from my phone reminds me

to get her upstairs so I can change my clothes



From upstairs I can hear Dad's car door slam

and I know they are home already

Mama's fidgets come back again

and I'm angry

when just seconds ago

her soft hands were gliding

across my pictures

my clothes

my animals

stuffed with love

and a pillow with her picture

stuck inside its plastic cover frame

 

freshly painted red fingernails

touching just about everything

happy to be in the room

where her child sleeps

happy to be inside

and here she is

now filled with fear

filled with how they will see her

a stranger squatting

in her own daughter's

bedroom



I run from my room

closing the door behind me /

down the stairs / I run / so I can

smile and twirl / real sweet once more /

for Dad / and his new wife

to dance / in their still-fresh

pride of the new high school graduate

 

where is she, Dad asks

 

I tell him

she is upstairs

tell him

we'll only be a few minutes

tell him

this is my house too

 

his new wife looks and sucks her teeth

upstairs, one of the first, down here the last

my baby brother off playing and oblivious

and suddenly I know somewhere

it's written, somewhere it says

my mama shouldn't be here



Mama shouldn't be here

so we're gone quick and quiet five minutes later to eat anywhere but here and Mama is cussin but I smile and turn on the radio, blast the ac cause it's just her and me

 

I ask her where she wants to go and she tells meanywhere girl I'm with my baby

I knew we shouldn't have gone in there! chile, did you see how she was lookin

 

I pretend it's all nothing and drive us to my favorite restaurant thumping my fingers

on my lap to the beat, leave Mama to keep talking and talking to the tune of herself



She already answered this herself

when I come back to the motel for her the next day

a question she asks in the car on the way

to my graduation party and it sounds like some

kind of silly joke where she's playing or must have

forgotten the party where we are headed is for me

 

I don't really feel

like bein bothered

with all them people

all them people I don't know

and they just gon be

lookin at me and I'm just gon be

sittin by myself and I just ain't

in the mood to be bothered, you know

 

I ask her what she wants to do instead

but tell her I'm going to my party, after all

it was thrown for me, it's either she comes

or she gets on the next train back, cause

today is supposed to be about me

 

oh I don't know but

I don't feel like bein bothered

I really ain't tryna go to no party

she says



Away from the party on this drive to the train station

it's only silent for a few minutes

before I'm called every name

 

I'm sure I'm not supposed to be

called by my mama but I know

 

this is how she says she's angry

this is how she says this is her day too

 

this is how she says she's sorry

in her own way, as a mother

 

for breaking all the rules




The first thing I do after everyone is gone

is shut the door

close the blinds

 

sometimes being dramatic

is my thing but

 

this really was

the first time I've seen

 

this much cash

ever

 

the room I'd slept in

for the past seven years

 

painted a Pepto-Bismol pink

was now marked

 

an old green

at the center

 

I'd opened each

graduation card alone

 

skipped Hallmark notes

telling me Good Job! and Great Things Ahead!

 

skipped every Congrats on your big day!

in search of what mattered most

 

told Dad I didn't feel like

being mushy

 

in front of all

those people

 

but truth is

I just wanted

 

to count my money

in peace




Excerpted from Every Body Looking by Candice Iloh
All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

A Finalist for the National Book Award

When Ada leaves home for her freshman year at a Historically Black College, it’s the first time she’s ever been so far from her family—and the first time that she’s been able to make her own choices and to seek her place in this new world. As she stumbles deeper into the world of dance and explores her sexuality, she also begins to wrestle with her past—her mother’s struggle with addiction, her Nigerian father’s attempts to make a home for her. Ultimately, Ada discovers she needs to brush off the destiny others have chosen for her and claim full ownership of her body and her future.

“Candice Iloh’s beautifully crafted narrative about family, belonging, sexuality, and telling our deepest truths in order to be whole is at once immensely readable and ultimately healing.”—Jacqueline Woodson, New York Times Bestselling Author of Brown Girl Dreaming

“An essential—and emotionally gripping and masterfully written and compulsively readable—addition to the coming-of-age canon.”—Nic Stone, New York Times Bestselling Author of Dear Martin

“This is a story about the sometimes toxic and heavy expectations set onthe backs of first-generation children, the pressures woven into the familydynamic, culturally and socially. About childhood secrets with sharp teeth. And ultimately, about a liberation that taunts every young person.” —Jason Reynolds, New York Times Bestselling Author of Long Way Down


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