At the heart of this novel is a 24-year-old Nigerian woman diagnosed at age three as a “sickler,” that is, a person with sickle cell anemia. It is a fictional tale, according to the preface, but one meant to educate readers about the disease, also suffered by author Maryam Awaisu.
The story begins as Nadia Habeeb prepares for a hip replacement but hears the doctors talking instead about amputation. Nadia frantically tries to alert the doctors to their mistake, but she is paralyzed and unable to move. As it turns out, Nadia is dreaming, but the hospital stay and hip replacement are real enough.
She comes through the ordeal of the hip replacement, only to fall into a coma from septicemia. Her family gathers around her in the hospital, and as they await her recovery, the author reveals the dynamics of the family: her parents, no longer married, siblings and extended relatives. While the disease complicates Nadia’s life on a daily basis, this is more than a story of a struggle against illness, and the novel follows Nadia — valedictorian of both her high school and graduating classes — as she leaves the hospital and works to launch her career and navigate youthful romances.
Awaisu writes in the preface that she has always loved writing fiction but this time wanted to write with a purpose, to bring “empathy, hope and increased awareness in those not affected, as well as survivors like myself.” In that, she has succeeded — and with no trace of self-pity in the protagonist. As is common among 20-year-olds, Nadia can be surly at times to some of those around her, but this rings true to her character and circumstances.
Overall, this is a solidly told story with nice detail about the Nigerian culture and family dynamics and fully rendered characters. This tale will be of interest to a wide audience, but particularly young women, who will empathize with Nadia’s struggles, frustrations and victories.
Also available as an ebook.