How You Grow Wings by Rimma Onoseta
How You Grow Wings Book Cover How You Grow Wings
Rimma Onoseta
YA, Fiction,
Algonquin Young Readers
August 9, 2022
Kindle, Hardback, Audiobook, Audio CD

Sisters Cheta and Zam couldn’t be more different. Cheta, sharp-tongued and stubborn, never shies away from conflict—either at school or at home, where her mother fires abuse at her. Timid Zam escapes most of her mother’s anger, skating under the radar and avoiding her sister whenever possible. In a turn of good fortune, Zam is invited to live with her aunt’s family in the lap of luxury. Jealous, Cheta also leaves home, but to a harder existence that will drive her to terrible decisions. When the sisters are reunited, Zam alone will recognize just how far Cheta has fallen—and Cheta’s fate will rest in Zam’s hands.

Debut author Rimma Onoseta deftly explores classism, colorism, cycles of abuse, how loyalty doesn’t always come attached to love, and the messy truths that sometimes, family is not a source of comfort, and that morality is all shades of grey.

Rimma Onoseta drops you in on the lives of two teenage Nigerian sisters, Cheta and her younger sister Zam, in her debut novel How You Grow Wings. Neither girls has had an easy upbringing in their strict religous household and school that is amplified by a toxic mother who is obsessed with status and a father who has become a silent doormat for wife. Subjected to various types of abuse, each sister has learned to deal with the trauma in different ways. Cheta, darker skinned and less “beautiful” by society’s standards, has become defiant and outspoken, taking the brunt of their mother’s wrath. Zam, fairer skinned and more submissive, tries to fade into the background at home and at school. Zam’s behavior only provokes resentment and anger in Cheta which causes Zam to withdraw even further. They both realize that they cannot continue to live like this but quickly understand that a better life is not that easy to obtain.

Onoseta has written a brutally honest account of life in a society that elevates classism, colorism, and gender roles. How You Grow Wings is marketed as a teen and young adult book but I would suggest that parents screen the book for younger teens. There are no trigger warnings given but there are a number of scenes and topics that might be bettered suited for a more mature child. For example, the book opens with a father beating his daughter and includes other examples of physical and verbal abuse, child molestation, pedophilia with no ramifications for the offender, drug use and trafficking, and a sugar daddy relationship. The main plot of each sister’s attempt to navigate an escape from their toxic family is played out against the backdrop of poverty, colorism, classism, and post-colonialism.

“Maybe one day the tings I had done would catch up to me but until then, I was going to make the most out of my fresh start and do my best to be happy.”

How You Grow Wings challenged, shocked, and surprised me with the experiences of Cheta and Zam. The story was a first person narrative of each of their lives. Their various recollections helped me to fill in the history behind their relationship and the contibuting factors that developed their individual personalities and coping mechanisms. Many times I realized I had no idea what the plot was or where the story was taking me, but my attention was captured by the tragedy that was their lives and relationship. It wasn’t until the end that Onoseta shocked me with a ending I didn’t see coming. While it was definitely not a happily ever after, the personal growth of Cheta and Zam as well as a stunning disclosure brought closure to this captivating story.