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Aya (Book 1)
Abouet, Margaret and ; Oubrerie, Clement (illus.) Aya (Book 1). Montreal: Drawn & Quarterly / Farrar, Straus, & Giroux , 2007. $19.95, ISBN 9781894937900 / 1894937902 .

Note: 19 year old Aya in Cote d'Ivoire is smart, focused with her eye on medical school. Her party animal girlfriends think she is too serious. Will they pull her off the path she is following? This graphic novel will be enjoyed by older teens. (CABA Winner)


AYA, the graphic novel, rocks!

For the uninitiated, the graphic novel Aya by Marguerite Abouet & Clement Oubrerie is a visual lesson of daily life in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, with rich authentic depictions that lead the reader from one end of the city to the other.

Home life is an array of genuine representations. Clothes are washed by hand and hung on the line to dry. Curtains are hung over doorways for privacy and to mitigate dust. Young women drape pagnes (lengths of printed cloth) on the ends of their beds, then don them to demonstrate modesty while walking around the house, as well as wearing them out as everyday streetwear. One notable print depicts the national symbol of the elephant. Doilies are placed under telephones, on top of T.V. sets, and on the ends of couches. Siblings and cousins share rooms. Hair braiding takes place whilst one sits on the floor, legs crossed. A father eats mounds of fufu in solitude at home. Family photos are gracefully placed around the house.

Street life is complete with billboards for insect repellant and cooperative credit unions. Business names that incorporate the name of God sell auto parts or general merchandise. The market scenes are awash with light and shadow, complete with simple wooden display tables. One gets a glimpse of life in the clubs, with women and men in ALL shapes, wearing both western attire and traditional cabas and slits. The Abidjan skyline is visible across the Ebrie Lagoon complete with an outline of the Hotel Ivoire. One witnesses over-taxed power lines, with added illegal wires that snake about poles. The overworked tailor is asked to make dresses based solely on magazine images. Cement poles are used for street lights, the best option given the termites.

But this graphic novel is more than a series of lessons; it is story about Aya, a 19- year-old defining what she wants from life despite an environment at odds with her aspirations. Aya deftly deflects unwanted come-ons by aggressive strange men on the street and she avoids flirtatious small talk. Aya understands that if she relinquishes her dream to become a doctor, she will become a player in the adulterous situations that surround her, or maybe she will be the victim of domestic violence/child abuse or perhaps she might need to consider (as her friend briefly does) having an abortion. Aya handles herself with such confidence that the reader has the sense that she will succeed in deciding her own future.

Aya is punctuated with humor that is hard to articulate, but wonderful to experience. For example the ridiculously huge home of the Sissoko family looks like a bizarre impromptu pink Lego construction kit, or maybe a weird cake. The Ivorian Bonus at the end of the book is not only educational -- explaining clothing and the messages portrayed in wax prints, food recipes and dance moves -- but also provides a hip insider giggle.

So much of this book is subtle and beautiful. Oubrerie's drawings dance throughout the book, providing the reader with wide angles and close-ups. The images are not elaborate, yet Oubrerie gives all the characters rich facial expressions and strong body language. As the reader thumbs through the book, the color schemes melt from one to another. Early morning can be vibrating pinks and oranges. Daytime can be warm golden greens. Dusk can be warm blues and browns. Nighttime can be grey blues with moonlit lighter colors. The layout is not overly busy, with generally six frames per page, with a few carefully selected full-page frames. The artistry of using seemingly hand drawn square frames with rounded corners and handwritten text adds to the approachability of the novel.

What makes this graphic novel so memorable is the detailed sincerity. Neither the images nor the text apologize for an African or Ivorian reality. Aya is an aesthetic pleaser with potentially global appeal to young adult readers.
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Rating: R Grade: H / T Type: Book

Reviewed by: Amma Oduro

Subject: West Africa / Ivory Coast ' Cote D'Ivoire / YA Fiction / Graphic novel / CABA Winner