Brown Girl in the Ring by Nalo Hopkinson – book review

Nalo Hopkinson‘s Brown Girl in the Ring may make Boney M fans think of their late 70’s hit of the same name, but this novel is in stark contrast to that happily whimsical West Indies children’s song, with it’s dark dystopian take of a futuristic Toronto, Canada. For a debut novel, it gathered an impressive collection of awards including winning the Warner Aspect First Novel Contest, the John W. Campbell Best New Writer, the 1999 Locus Award for Best First Novel, a nomination for the Philip K Dick Award for best book and was a finalist for Canada Reads in 2008. The book is steeped in the supernatural with some refreshingly new monsters and deities based in Afro-Caribbean culture, and I have to agree that this is a very cool story that urban fantasy lovers may have trouble putting down.

Ti-Jeanne, the story’s central character, is the mother of a new baby, learning how to navigate single motherhood in a city turned into a slum, whose inhabitants must battle extreme poverty, street gangs ruled by a ruthless boss, drug addiction, swarms of street children and the collapse of social safeguards. The elite have all moved away to the suburbs and taken their resources with them, leaving the city to slowly decay and the inhabitants to fend for themselves in a world where murder and mysterious disappearance are now commonplace.

The story highlights the struggles between family, culture, faith, community and a woman’s journey into understanding herself and how the choices you make shape your future. It’s a bit of a dark read, but I loved how the flow of the dialect painted the story, and all the Legbara scenes (Nope, no context, you’ll have to read it! Ha ha ha!) and was definitely left wondering if there might be more.

Alas, it is a stand alone novel, but for those interested in prequels, there was a movie released in 2017 based on this book called Brown Girl Begins. I’d have to say that now I’ve tried this one, I’m super interested in checking out some of her other works. Have you read any Nalo Hopkinson? Any favourites? And for those curious about the Boney M song, I’ve included a link. Enjoy!

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