Say You’re One of Them
Little, Brown and Company, $23.99, 368 pp.
From Enoch Emery in Wise Blood to Miles and Flora in Henry James’s Turn of the Screw, young people in fiction are often privileged interpreters of reality. Maybe it’s the absence of an ideology—their decidedly direct, if not always innocent, take on things. Kids might not always see things clearly, but they do say clearly what it is they think they see. The childlike Enoch sees a mummy and declares it “the new Jesus.” Oskar in Günter Grass’s The Tin Drum provides us with an unforgettable view of Nazism through the eyes of an eternal three-year-old. Henry James’s Miles and Flora either see evil or are evil, and Lewis Carroll’s Alice guides us through the art of seeing in a looking glass, revealing that happiness may just mean accepting the odd as if it were the everyday.
Nigerian Jesuit Uwem Akpan’s first collection of stories, Say You’re One of Them, is a moving and chilling addition to the literary treasure-trove of children’s perceptions. In the opening story, “An Ex-Mas Feast,” a twelve-year-old Kenyan girl named Maisha prostitutes herself to pay her younger brother Jigama’s school fees. The family’s desperate circumstances are seen through Jigama’s eyes. “Fattening for Gabon” is narrated by another young boy, ten-year-old Kotchikpa, on whom it slowly dawns that the new wealth of his uncle and the attention he and his sister are getting from their new “godparents” will not lead to...