By Modupe Yusuf
- Title: Those Who Wait
- Number of pages: 156
- Title: Perfectly Imperfect
- Number of pages: 168
- Year of publication: 2014
- Title: Plain Yellow
- Number of pages: 175
- Year of publication: 2015
- Author: Ruby Yayra Goka
- Publisher: Techmate Publishers Limited
- Category: Young Adult
The challenges of youth are innumerable. Ruby Yayra Goka is one writer who has chosen to explore the experiences of youth, with all of its challenges and adventures, and in the books under review, even though the experiences of youth are not exclusively those of the girl-child, Goka explores youth-related themes and issues through young, female protagonists.
In Those Who Wait, Patience Acolatse is a young girl who is displeased with almost everything about herself. She feels too tall, not particularly beautiful, flat-chested compared to her mates, and has annoying hair growth on her face. Worst of all, her name is Patience, a name she hates so much she cannot wait to change it once she turns eighteen. In many things, Patience is a young woman in a hurry.
Patience is unhappy when her favourite uncle dies, but she takes solace in the fact that she can help her bereaved cousin, Rowena, get over the death of her father. She considers it an opportunity to reignite their lost friendship and agrees to make all the sacrifices that her mother demands for Rowena’s sake.
Rowena, on the other hand, is convinced that since Patience still has both her parents they cannot have anything in common. Rowena and the new friends she makes at school ‘gang up’ on Patience and ridicule her in the most embarrassing way. Good-natured Patience is willing to let God avenge her until she discovers that Rowena is trying to get the attention of Dave, her crush. Patience’s attempt at revenge leads to a fight, which paradoxically ends the rivalry between the cousins.
The plot of the book is rather too simple and the narrative unchallenging. The first twelve chapters of Those Who Wait leave the reader wondering where the story is going without necessarily sustaining their interest. Coupled with the author’s penchant for describing ‘unusual’ words in a simplistic manner, the reader will wonder at many points if the author has anything to offer with the story.
The book eventually ends with a story of the rewards of patience, completely unrelated to the relationship between the protagonist and her cousin, leaving the reader with a happy ending and a contrived one.
Also set in a secondary school and in the context of Ghanaian family life, Perfectly Imperfect is the beautiful tale of the convictions, victories, and shortcomings of young Yayra Amenyo. Yayra’s otherwise perfect life takes a dramatic turn when she loses her father in a car accident. She is a survivor of the same accident, which leaves her face badly scarred.
Yayra suffers from lack of self-confidence, due to a medical condition that requires her to wear a colostomy bag, and she is displeased when, in a move she considers insensitive to her plight, her mother chooses to relocate them to another town and take up a new job.
Yayra faces the challenge of having people stare at her and wonder, some even ask, what happened to her. Her new classmates make it even worse – they have a name for every ‘unusual’ student and hers is Dr Blight, a character with a mysterious scar on her face, from the Captain Planet animated TV series.
When a new student, Jamal, walks into class and her classmates start to call him murderer, Yayra’s interest is piqued. Soon, she finds out that Jamal has an unexplained murder case trailing him, involving his former girlfriend, and that the police only let him go for lack of evidence.
Yayra and Jamal develop a friendship over their love for clay, and she gets to know more about him. He is a teenage orphan with a daughter, a half-brother and a grandmother to take care of. His life is imperfect in a way that is totally different from Yayra’s.
But the utmost imperfection is seen in the life of Yayra’s late father. Yayra adores her father to a fault. He could do no wrong, especially not to his family. When after his death her mother begins to behave as though he never existed, Yayra is confused and unforgiving towards her mother.
When Yayra gets into a disciplinary case at school and her mother restricts her movement, Yayra comforts herself with the only reminder of her father that is available to her, his shirt. Yayra’s mother is unable to suppress her annoyance when she sees Yayra in the shirt. She reveals how Yayra’s father had another family, for whom he built a six-bedroomed house by emptying the joint account he maintained with Yayra’s mother while he continued to live with Yayra and her mother in a rented flat. Yayra finds out this lie lasted for fifteen years and her mother has only been trying to preserve the good memory of the father that the daughter has.
Perfectly Imperfect is a story of the seeming imperfections that surround the existence of humans as social beings. It focuses on those occasions on which we fall short of the expectations that are generally considered the norm. Whereas her mates are faced with challenges of puberty, peer pressure and doing well at school, things not unusual in her age bracket, Yayra represents those who stand apart not because they choose to but because somethings are beyond their control.
On the other hand, there are others like Jamal who make wrong decisions without realising it. When they discover their error, they find a way to make amends and live right. There is yet another group, to which Yayra’s father belongs. These ones live their imperfection deceitfully, not minding who is hurt. Sometimes they get away with it and sometimes they do not.
Perfectly Imperfect challenges the reader to not only give others the benefit of the doubt but also to consider the situation of others, using the self as a mirror rather than as a yardstick. Goka weaves this tale beautifully. It is a well thought out story with a direct message, and the clarity of it is not lost on the reader. The emotions captured in the book are so raw and true, and the entertainment and educative quality of the work are deserving of commendation.
In Plain Yellow, Goka chronicles the events in the life of young Amerley Amarteyiso over a period of one year. She tells a heart-rending tale of how sixteen-year-old Amerley becomes provider in her household of four children and two parents because of her father’s need for a male child and her mother’s inability to bear him that child.
From dropping out of school to taking meals on credit to feed her family, Amerley works as a maid for a wage that is to help train her three younger sisters and help her mother start a business. Amerley’s mother sends her to the Idrissu household in East Legon. Amerley is told that Madam Rosina Idrissu is her mother’s relative, even though they share no blood ties, and that there is a promise to enrol her in a fashion institute.
Amerley has her work cut out for her and tries to settle into the life of a maid in a wealthy household. Things take an ugly turn when she gets raped by her employer’s two sons, Omar and Zaed. Zaed is the only Idrissu with whom Amerley connects until he and his brother rape her. Omar is the adopted son of Mr Idrissu. He completely ignores Amerley until the night he rapes her. Afterwards, he begins to taunt her and threatens her with the fact that Zaed is his alibi and it would be their word against hers should she try to tell anyone.
Amerley does not tell anyone of her ordeal because of an ill-conceived notion that since she did not call for help during her violation, nobody would consider it rape. With thoughts of how she is helping her family, Amerley bears her pain in silence until Omar rapes her again. This time with so much brutality that she becomes an invalid for months.
Her condition deteriorates due to the Idrissus’ refusal to help her get medical attention, in order to protect their name and business. Her father eventually cashes in on her situation by taking an out of court settlement from the Idrissus. He promptly abandons Amerley, her siblings and her mother. The greatly distraught mother then begins seeking justice for her daughter.
The title of the book is symbolic of the trauma caused by abuse at the hands of known people. Such people are often in a position to use the weaknesses of their victims against them. Amerley is from a poor home and she cannot afford to fail her family, so when threatened into silence by Omar she complies and justifies it to herself as sacrifice.
Rosina Idrissu also capitalises on Amerley’s poor background and refuses to give her the benefits that other domestic help enjoy, and when Amerley finds out about these benefits, she counts herself already privileged to work at all and support her family back home.
In Amerley’s mother’s decision to fight for her daughter, in spite of all that Rosina has done for her, is a lesson that there are times when the fear a victim has for their oppressor is all that keeps them from freedom.
In Amerley we see a typical case of the child labourer. When parents who are capable of working refuse to do so and fail to provide for their children, they expose them to needless dangers. Children may be lured with simple things that they lack at home, such as attention.
It cannot be overemphasised that it is the duty of parents to cater for the well-being of their children and wards. When parents who refuse to rise to this challenge expect that other people will do it on their behalf, they are living a lie. Of course, it cannot be denied that some children are better off away from their birth parents, but a larger percentage will only thrive where there is parental care and guidance.
The picturesque description of the squalid environment in which Amerley is raised convinces the reader that the author is aware that, usually, poverty is the excuse for child labour. However, one wonders how effective child labour has been in poverty reduction. Given that the market for child labour is mostly in the informal sector, there is more room for exploitation than profit. It is unimaginable that children who are at best unaware of their fundamental rights can find the balance and develop the capacity to bring themselves, first, out of poverty and then their families.
Plain Yellow, for all of its emotional quality lacks a good narrative structure. The events take place in two locations, Teshie, where Amerley’s family is based, and East Legon, where the Idrissus live. However, the chronology of the events in the story is confused, and the story ends rather abruptly.
One thing is characteristic of Goka’s writing: in each book she stresses the importance of education to the development of her characters so much so that even when her protagonist is not a schoolgirl, as is the case in Plain Yellow, she introduces another character that is passionate about her studies and is rewarded for her efforts.
However, by presenting a protagonist who is not a schoolgirl in Plain Yellow, Goka demonstrates that she is capable of developing a different kind of main character. Her protagonists are quite well developed. All of them rise above personal challenges to acknowledging their self-worth.
Those Who Wait lacks the finesse demonstrated in Perfectly Imperfect. And in Plain Yellow, published after those two, the reader would have expected that the quality of the narrative would be, if not better, on a par with the earlier work, indicating that the author is getting better at her craft. All things considered, Goka is definitely a promising writer.
Photograph:‘Ghanaian Schoolgirl’ by Gwyneth Dunsford
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Modupe Yusuf studies languages at the University of Ibadan.