Once Upon a Childhood by the author who writes under the pseudonym Lara Brown, may look like an unassuming, easily-read book for adolescents at first glance, but, once one start reading the first few pages, it becomes clear that this book is far from your average ‘high-school-drama-story’.
In fact, it came as quite the surprise that nobody has marketed as a modern, Nigerian, no-fuss Jane Austen-like novel that gently, but unequivocally raises all the most pertinent issues that dominate the lives of countless young women and girls in Nigeria and around the world.
The plan is simple for Lara and her best friends – make the most of their final high school year together before they part ways soon. Too bad secrets won’t let them. A slow start to the school term leads to a steep drop into a rabbit hole of secrets rearing their ugly heads – think a hidden disorder, a predatory relationship, a second family, a shock diagnosis, a resurrected marriage, and more. The anticipated drama-free year goes off the rails as past and present secrets unravel at a breathless pace. The revelations spark a chain of unprecedented reactions that send the four friends reeling as they face impossible choices. They can sacrifice their friendships to keep carefully constructed houses of cards from falling. Or maybe it is past time to rip apart the frail safety nets woven by a pervasive culture of silence. Set in the brawling, cosmopolitan city of Lagos, Nigeria, Once Upon Our Childhood examines the hydra-headed nature of abuse through the raw, insightful, and sometimes, snarky voices of four diverse characters.
Once Upon a Childhood tells the gripping and thoroughly relatable story of Lara, Fola, Abi and Bibs and the haunting adventures they set out on in their adolescent years.
The story itself is relatively plot-heavy, so it seems best not to delve into that too much, as to avoid revealing too much and spoiling the reading experience for others.
In terms of style, the author managed to merge beautifully descriptive prose with what feels accurate dialogue and reflections of young women who are trying to grow into their womanhood and discover who they are and what their place in society is.
The real-life issues explored in this novel include, but are not exclusive to, child abuse, gender-based discrimination, parental neglect, and the ensuing anger and resentment if those issues remain taboo and forcefully swept under the carpet.
This novel would make for an excellent read in classrooms around the world, as it serves as both an entertaining read with a gripping story, and an ideal way of starting conversations about violence against women and the consequences of overly patriarchal structures, institutions and societies,.
Once Upon a Childhood is as relevant and relatable as it is entertaining, and sets the author up as a promising voice in contemporary storytelling.
*Many thanks to The BookLady NG for the free copy.