Publisher: Random House Publishing Group – Random House, Dial Press Trade Paperback
Date of publication: May 2nd, 2023
Genre: Fiction, Romance, Africa, Literary Fiction, Contemporary, Adult, Historical Fiction
Trigger Warnings: Racism, Suicide, Spousal Abuse, Child Abuse, miscarriages, maiming after bombing, Sexual assault, abortion, grief , PTSD, early onset Alzheimer’s (Soila’s mother)
Longing for independence, a young sheltered Kenyan woman flees the expectations of her mother for a life in New York City that challenges all her beliefs about race, love, and family.
“Lucky Girl is at times tender, at times funny, at times uncomfortably frank. . . . A fresh look at racism, privilege, and the challenges of coming-of-age and falling in love between two cultures.”–Charmaine Wilkerson, New York Times bestselling author of Black Cake
Soila is a lucky girl by anyone’s estimation. Raised by her stern, conservative mother and a chorus of aunts, she has lived a protected life in Nairobi. Soila is headstrong and outspoken, and she chafes against her mother’s strict rules. After a harrowing assault by a trusted family friend, she flees to New York for college, vowing never to return home.
New York in the 1990s is not what Soila imagined it would be. Instead of finding a golden land of opportunity, Soila is shocked by the entitlement of her wealthy American classmates and the poverty she sees in the streets. She befriends a Black American girl at school and witnesses the insidious racism her friend endures, forcing Soila to begin to acknowledge the legacy of slavery and the blind spots afforded by her Kenyan upbringing. When she falls in love with a free-spirited artist, a man her mother would never approve of, she must decide whether to honor her Kenyan identity and what she owes to her family, or to follow her heart and forge a life of her own design.
Lucky Girl is a fierce and tender debut about the lives and loves we choose–what it meant to be an African immigrant in America at the turn of the millennium, and how a young woman finds a place for herself in the world.
Every morning throughout my childhood, at five forty-five A.M., Mother knocked on my bedroom door. I climbed off my bed, knelt, and kissed the floor. “Serviam. I will serve.”Lucky Girl by Irene Muchemi-Ndiritu
Solia was raised by her stern and conservative mother, grandmother, and aunts after her father died in 1980s Kenya. Chafing against her mother’s restrictions, Solia finally was able to wear her down to attend college in New York City. After an assault by a family friend, Solia vowed never to return to Kenya. America, to her, was the land of opportunity, and she was determined to make it. But, after making friends with an African American girl on campus, Solia slowly realizes that America isn’t as wonderful as she thought. The legacy of slavery and racism in America is apparent every time she goes to a store or hears stories from her friends about how they were treated by the police or other citizens of the country. Her Kenyan upbringing made her blind to slavery and how brown/black people in America are treated. Then she falls in love with an artist, and Solia needs to make choices. Does she honor the wishes of her mother? Does she embrace her Kenyan background? Or does she continue to live in America and make her way? Is there a way to do all three?
Like most books I see floating around the blogosphere, Lucky Girl caught my attention when I saw a couple of reviews. I liked what I read and immediately added it as want to read on Goodreads (gotta love Goodreads shelves). I didn’t think I would read this book until Random House had it up as a wish on NetGalley. I hit that button and promptly forgot about it (because that’s how I am). So, imagine my surprise when I got the email that the publisher granted my wish. I am glad I got my wish granted because this book was great to read. It lived up to the reviews I read.
There are triggers in Lucky Girl. They are:
- Racism: Racism is a big part of this book. Solia never experienced racism while living in Kenya. She lived in an insulated bubble. She came across as a little ignorant during discussions about race with her friends. I liked how her friends gently (and in one very memorable scene, not so gently) explained racism in America.
- Suicide: Solia’s father committed suicide before the book started. Solia was kept in the dark by it until she was ten years old when her mother told her about that day. It was very graphic for a ten-year-old. It was graphic for me to read, and I am almost 46!!
- Spousal Abuse: Solia’s grandmother was beaten by her grandfather daily. The abuse happened off-page and was nongraphic when Solia recounted it.
- Child Abuse: Solia was verbally, emotionally, and mentally abused by her mother throughout the book.
- Miscarriages: Solia’s grandmother miscarried several times due to being beaten. Nothing was graphic; it was stated as a fact.
- Maiming after a bombing: Solia’s favorite aunt (Tanei) was horrifically burned in maimed in the Nairobi embassy bombing in 1998.
- Sexual Assault: Solia is sexually assaulted by a priest. The priest, a close family friend, tells Solia he could sway her mother to let Solia attend college in America if she did one thing. He then assaulted her with his fingers.
- Abortion: Solia gets an abortion in the late 1990s/early 2000s. The author doesn’t go into the procedure itself, but she does explore the feelings Solia experienced before, during, and after.
- Grief: Solia experiences grief several times during the book.
- PTSD: Solia experiences PTSD after being in one of the Twin Towers during 9-11.
- Early-on set Alzehimers: Solia’s mother develops early onset Alzehimers disease towards the end of the book. It is graphic with how confused she was and how Solia struggled with the decision to take care of her.
If any of these trigger you, I recommend not reading the book.
Lucky Girl was a wonderfully written book that took critical issues in America and showed them through another set of eyes. Solia was a naive Kenyan who lived in an insulated bubble at home. When she arrived in America, she realized how insulated she was. Reading about Solia’s journey as she discovered herself was terrific. Her journey wasn’t easy and, at times, was full of pain and self-doubt. But Solia learned essential life lessons from each challenge she overcame.
There is so much about this book that I could focus on, but I will talk about two points that stood out to me the most. Solia’s naivety to racism and her job on Wall Street. I knew she would be in for a rude awakening when she arrived in America. But I wasn’t expecting her to almost look down on African Americans or think less about their plight in this country. It was hard to read her explanations for why she felt the way she did, but it was even harder to read Letitca’s comebacks. Racism was (and still is) a huge problem in this country. I am glad that the author chose to address it in Lucky Girl.
As for her job on Wall Street, I didn’t understand it. Maybe it’s just me, but why would you want to stay in a position that made you work to the point you felt numb? And why would you stay in a job that you hated? In Solia’s case, it was because her mother expected her to. I felt awful for Solia during that part of her life. She wasn’t living; she was existing, and just existing doesn’t make you happy.
There is so much more that I could write in this review, but I would end up giving away some spoilers. So, I am going to end the review here. I will say that I wasn’t surprised with how the book ended. I was surprised by where Solia ended up and who she was with.
I would recommend Lucky Girl to anyone over 21. There are language, violence, and sexual situations. Also, see my trigger warnings.
Many thanks to Random House Publishing Group -Random House, Dial Press Trade Paperback, NetGalley, and Irene Muchemi-Ndiritu for allowing me to read and review Lucky Girl. All opinions stated in this review are mine.
If you enjoyed reading this review of Lucky Girl, then you will enjoy reading these books:
Other books by Irene Muchemi-Ndiritu: