How You Grow Wings by Rimma Onoseta
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.
Tanya’s love for books has been a lifelong passion that she likes sharing with others. Reading is also the thing that relaxes her after a day of juggling the many responsibilities that come with being being wife to an amazing man, mother to four great kids spread around the world, business manager, and farm hand on their place in southwest Missouri; home to Akaushi cattle and a menagerie of pygmy goats, horses, chickens, dogs and cats.