Even When Your Voice Shakes by Ruby Yayra Goka
  • Even When Your Voice Shakes
Even When Your Voice Shakes Book Cover Even When Your Voice Shakes
Ruby Yayra Goka
Teen and Young Adult
Norton Young Readers
February 15, 2022
Hardback, Kindle
240 pages

A young woman speaks out against her wealthy abuser in this riveting YA novel from one of Ghana’s most celebrated children’s book authors.

When Amerley is offered a job working for one of her mother’s old school friends, she knows she has to accept. Her wages will feed her family, help her sisters stay in school, and ensure that her mother won’t have to worry about them. Amerley’s move to Accra isn’t easy, but she soon settles into her new life away from her small village―until she is raped by the son of her employer. Torn between keeping quiet to keep her job and speaking up for herself and for justice, Amerley must decide how to live her truth, and the impact of her choice will be felt through her entire community.

Through the life of an ordinary girl from a small country village, Even When Your Voice Shakes exposes the damage wrought by institutionalized misogyny and poverty and reveals how even those who are most disadvantaged are never without their own power.

Holding Space for Amerley
I wanted to reach out and hug Amerley – the main character of this novel.

Insert a down and out situation for the eldest of four girls in a home in Ghana. Amerley is fiercely loyal, she’s a maternal figurehead to her younger sisters, even though her mother is “present”. She has a moral compass that I love, but her situation goes from bad to worse. Amerley doesn’t just want to change her situation for herself, she wants an opportunity to live an honest life as a seamstress, to marry her sweetheart and is saving sex for her marriage bed.

Cue the trauma: Her father is no good (read as greedy, chauvinistic). After the fourth child is declared a girl… he leaves  home and denies the baby of her naming ceremony.Can you even imagine this? In a culture where names were tied to birth order and gender, you leave the newest baby girl nameless for TWO MONTHS? Wicked. To make matters worse, he is rumored to have another family in another city. Her mother seems to be suffering a horrible case of postpartum depression – which leaves Amerley to literally pick up the Mommy role concerning all things family/rent/provision. In her community, many are poor, which doesn’t leave her many choices. One day, all of that changes when a wealthy relative shows up. Miraculously, Amerley’s mother climbed out of bed and makes herself somewhat presentable. This woman who has come has known her from better days. Insert the “savior” trope. Amerley is asked, read told, to serve as a domestic in this relative’s home with the promise of a secure future for her family and fashion school for her. None of that goes as planned.

Trigger Warning: Rape, Domestic Violence, Physical Violence

To be honest, I wasn’t ready for this young girl to be assaulted… more than once. I almost quit at that point.

Picture this, a reader who is known to predict the plot’s flow met with context she can’d decipher.

I was frustrated because there were many words and phrases I wasn’t clear on because of the cultural/language barrier (the Ga culture is dominant in the story). Somethings were explained and some were not. It was almost the end of the book before I understood that “charleywotes” were shoes. Google didn’t even help me with that. Frustrated or not, I pressed on. Most of the book is the set up. You get to see the world from Amerley’s eyes. It’s not pretty. Her teen bff is pregnant. Her mother is desolate, her boyfriend is in his own situation but trying to do the right thing, and she is having to figure out adult life as a teen. She didn’t get a teenage life – she got an adult life in her teenage years. Insert frustration, prayers, and tears. Yes, in real life for me and in the story for the main character. Why did I keep reading you ask? I kept reading because I know this is life for many. When the rapes did surface in the text, I was infuriated. Literally, I wanted to throw my phone. I was reading the e-ARC on my kindle app, and I kind-of-need my phone, so I had to rethink that. The rapes weren’t super graphic, but for someone with a vivid imagination like me, it was still painful to read. What was worse: THE REACTION afterward. How people treated her after she was raped and physically assaulted was incomprehensible. She clearly displayed signs of trauma, but it was ignored by most. The aggressor threatened her into silence.

The book cut to an end rather quickly. I wasn’t a fan of that. With all of the build up, I would have liked to see more of her recovery before the book ended. You do get some resolve in the Epilogue -so make sure you read the Epilogue. However, it jumps eight years down the line. I was happy to see that justice was served. The trauma completely changes her life. As in real life, trauma leaves NO ONE the same. This seems like it’s for a more mature  audience than YA to me. I don’t know many children who will get curious enough to look up what they don’t understand. It was difficult to read because of the truth that in many places, where rape isn’t uncommon, the cultural fabric of the society normalizes blaming the girl/female/woman. America is included in the count of places with the stain of rape culture too. In the end there is resolve for this main character. For all of those out there who never got real justice, my heart goes out to you.