written by Marguerite Abouet
illustrated by Clément Oubrerie

from Marguerite Abouet's 'Aya'

Marguerite Abouet's Aya
illustrated by Clément Oubrerie

Young Adult

A Coming-of-Age Narrative Set in Africa’s Ivory Coast

As the book’s introduction explains, the Ivory Coast in the late seventies was a prosperous country, one where poor people could work hard and end up living well.

It was a time and place of “unprecedented wealth” for native people in postcolonial Africa.

While some of the characters are quite rich, the story centers around three teenage girls from a less prosperous, working class neighborhood.

Aya by Marguerite Abouet - summary

Aya, the eponymous character, introduces the story, but takes a more passive role in it. She’s a studious girl, interested only in succeeding in school and becoming a doctor, even though her father feels like this is a waste of time for a girl.

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Aya is a really strong young woman, constantly brushing off the attention of men, because she’s far too busy for relationships.

At two points in the story, she deals with aggressive street harassment. At another, she cleverly passes off a nice boy who doesn’t interest her to a girl who does like him.

Aya’s two best friend’s, Bintou and Adjoua, love her, but don’t quite understand her.

Bintou cares only for dancing, which she will do at every possible opportunity. She’s dating a wealthy boy named Moussa, but she’s not particular. She’s also fond of a boy from the neighborhood, Mamadou, and even gets in trouble in one scene when her father catches her out dancing with his best friend, Adjoua’s father.

It’s an awkward scene, one that illustrates how the men in their neighborhood behave outside the home.

Adjoua is a harder character to pin down. She’s only too happy to follow Bintou’s lead, and while Bintou is pretty much unsupervised and able to do what she wants (until her father catches her dancing with a middle aged man), Adjoua has no problem lying to her parents and sneaking around to have a good time. Adjoua’s actions form the mystery of the story. She’s often seen skulking around the “Thousand Star Motel,” which is what the local teens call the market square after dark. It’s a place to hook up in secret, and Adjoua keeps her secrets well. The reader knows she’s fooling around, but her paramour’s face is never revealed.  

The crux of the story comes after Bintou is put under strict watch—her father orders her male cousin (it’s common for rural families to send their children to stay with city relatives) to follow her around—and with Bintou grounded, Adjoua must make her own choices.  

Adjoua does not necessarily make the best choices. 

Marguerite Abouet's Aya - review

Ultimately, Adjoua’s actions lead to her own prosperity, but it seems that she must hurt others to achieve her objectives. Since her lover in the marketplace is never seen in daylight, there’s some mystery here and there as to his identity, and the end of Aya turns out to be a great surprise, both to the reader as well as to the characters.  

The penultimate panel of this graphic novel consists of Aya, Bintou, Adjoua, Adjoua’s mother, and Adjoua’s mother-in-law all staring gape-mouthed with the story’s big, unspoken revelation. It’s up to the reader to make sense of the girls’ behavior and decide if it’s justified.

(Webmaster's note: If that sounds like a bit of a cliffhanger, it is. There are more books in the Aya series.)

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