I so wanted to love Aya. As soon as I read about it on The Boston Bibliophile, I put a hold on my library's copy. A semi-autobiographical graphic novel set in the Ivory Coast! A glimpse back in time to 1978, before civil unrest wracked that part of western Africa, with illustrations by Clement Oubrerie to add to the ambience.
I didn't like it much.
Don't get me wrong, parts of it are funny or enlightening. In fact, any given page, taken on its own, has merit as a slice of life in another time and place. The problem comes in following the author's train of thought as she weaves the storylines together.
At first I couldn't figure out what my problem was. Abouet had gone to the trouble of introducing the major characters and their relationships to each other in the first few pages. So why the need to flip back to those pages repeatedly, as if I were attempting a complicated recipe? And why, even after checking the "recipe" two or three times, was I still confused?
It's all about point of view. The story is told in first person from Aya's point of view, but Aya isn't the focus of every scene. In fact, she's not even present much of the time. Here's her friend Bintou alone in her room. Here's a group of teens hanging out (but which one's Aya? No, she's not there). Here's Aya's friend--or is that Aya? No, because Aya was wearing a red dress--having private time with a boy.
Even when this wasn't baffling enough to send me back to page two, it distanced me from the story and kept me from connecting to any of the characters. Such a shame, because Abouet has created some wonderful, quirky characters from the friends and neighbors she remembers from her childhood in the Ivory Coast. Maybe she should have entitled it Friends of Aya, since that's who the story seemed to be about.
The Soundtrack: Ernesto Djédjé was a popular musician out of the Ivory Coast in the seventies. Here he is singing Ziboté (this video is still pictures only so shouldn't take too long to load). Who cares if I liked the book or not? Time to dance!