Aya, by Marguerite Abouet; illustrated by Clement Oubrerie. Published 2007 by Drawn &Quarterly. Hardcover. Graphica. Fiction. Translated from the French by Helge Dascher.
It was the artwork that first grabbed my attention about Aya, a funny story about young girls having fun in 1970s Ivory Coast, during a brief period of prosperity following the end of French colonial rule. It's illustrated by French artist Clement Oubrerie in a charming, humorous style reminiscent of fellow French artist Joann Sfar (who edited the Gallimard Jeunesse French edition)- so reminiscent that I really had to look twice at the credit. But Oubrerie's style is definitely different- looser, more relaxed.
And his style befits the story, a fun romp through a vibrant era of optimism and a flourishing economy, focusing on the fun and games of a group of girlfriends as they run around with their boyfriends while their parents fret about jobs and marriages. But it's really about the girls- studious good-girl Aya, who wants to be a doctor, and her friends Adjoua and Bintou. They're typical teenage girls- they love clothes and boys and parties, and they're trying to do the right thing even when they don't quite know what that is. And when one of the girls gets pregnant- well, then things really get going.
It's a cute story, not one of my favorites but cute. I found all the stories a little hard to follow, but I loved the twist at the very end- at the very last panel, actually. The dialogue is fresh and believable, and although I haven't read the original French, Helge Dascher's translation is very smooth. The girls and the boys are both portrayed as equally silly and irresponsible, and their parents are just clueless and wrapped up in their own problems. The book includes a very helpful preface summarizing the recent history of Ivory Coast which really helps situate the reader, and author Abouet has included a fun chapter at the end with a glossary and some recipes and fashion advice; the political content is minimal and Aya would be great for teens interested in a fun story or anyone interested in positive stories about Africa. Personally though, I'm glad I only checked it out from the library and didn't buy it. But I still liked it.
FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from the publisher.