I have mixed feelings about The Girl With the Louding Voice (2020) by Abi Daré, because I absolutely loved the main character, 14-year old Nigerian village girl Adunni. She is smart, resourceful, unstoppable, and resilient. Her determination to go to school so she can be a teacher “with a louding voice” was amazing and inspiring. I was invested in her journey–I couldn’t wait to find out whether she was ever able to realize her dream and get out of the series of bad situations that she found herself in. The things she, and so many other girls in Nigeria, are forced by family or circumstances to endure are heartbreaking and rage-inducing. No one should have to deal with what she does, and Daré has created an unforgettable character in Adunni.
But. There is so much anti-fatness woven throughout it, in both subtle and obvious ways that I was disappointed. While there are many villains in the book, the worst villians are described as “big”–Big Madam and Big Daddy are clearly fat, and Adunni’s husband Morufu is described as having a big round belly hard like a coconut. Big Madam has more money and food than she needs but only feeds Adunni one meal a day–withholding of food from Adunni is used to control her or as a punishment. While I don’t think the author specifically intended to vilify fat people, that was the effect. I think she used fatness as a representation of having too much, and as a stand-in for gluttony.
I do recommend The Girl With the Louding Voice with the reservation that you need to be prepared for the anti-fatness. Other than that, it’s a super-compelling story, told in Adunni’s non-standard English, since she only completed four years of primary school before her mother died. The audiobook is read by Adjoa Andoh (of Bridgerton fame as Lady Danbury) who brings Adunni’s voice to life. I didn’t want the audiobook to end but I was very anxious to find out how the author resolved the problems Adunni was facing–whether she is ever able to be free and whether she is able to go to school, the two things she wanted most in the world (besides her mother not having died).
I think the author could have toned down or eliminated the anti-fatness without changing the story. The decision to make Big Madam and Big Daddy fat, in addition to being wealthy people who take from and abuse others, was not necessary.