Words dripping with the honey and hope of girlhood on the cusp of woman, Lionheart Girl is up there in my top reads of the year, maybe of all time.
When I was asked if I wanted to share my review as part of the blog tour I was honoured and delighted to express how much I love this book.
Utterly immersive and evocative account of Sheba’s rite of passage within her life, own femininity, heritage and connection to the land and her ancestors tangled with magic on her ascent to the future Queen Mother of the village with no name.
I simply didn’t want this book to end, Yaba’s writing is stunning and so lovingly and tenderly crafted, she is truly a Queen Mother of story craft.
Sheba is a Princess of her village, the youngest born of a Royal house of women in a village with no name, a place protected for centuries by her ancestor’s magic and only can be found by those who belong- whether born there or needing refuge.
Sheba dreams of knowing her father one day, and wishing to know of her father is the catalyst for change in her life. First as a young child in meeting Maybe, a Fulani boy with a name to confuse the spirits who took his elder siblings and eyes that see beyond this world.
The second as a teen discovering the truth about her mother, the glamorous and dangerous Sika, who bends people to her will and tortures the household whenever she briefly returns from her trips. A woman with dark secrets, dark powers and has bound Sheba to a terrible fate unless Sheba can take her own power in time.
I chuckle, feel a faint itch in my palms, and in my fingers, a flutter light as a butterfly’s wing. The tips of my fingers tingle. Blood rushes into my hands and wham!
Lionheart Girl is dreamy, wistful, joyful even amongst its dark points and evocative with the scents and textures of life. Yaba’s loving hand like Sheba’s weaves in the heritage and culture of West Africa, plaiting in folklore and herstory in to this beautiful design and choosing beading to reflect heart and character throughout Sheba’s tale just as the hair-work in the book hopes to suit the inner truth of the person to the watching world.
Hair is a central theme within the book, not simply because this is part of Sheba’s gift to ‘see’ through touching people’s hair, but it’s cultural significance to Black Women and in this case to West African women as representing their soul flame and women like Sheba and her aunt are occasionally gifted with a second sight that allows them to ‘read’ hair and help heal the people they treat.
‘Remember that the style you choose has to be much more than adornment. Hair is the soils flame. It reveals what the soul desires. You have to listen very carefully to understand what it’s telling you.’Aunt Clara to Sheba
Though this is not my heritage, I have always been respectful of African hair and its importance and value to the self, and I hope that other readers will find this theme as powerful and moving as I did.
It’s beautiful to see this special relationship revealed and treasured in such an intimate way, as an outsider I felt honoured to be privy to this sacred space and ceremony, and the reflections and growth that Sheba undergoes when given the privilege to touch hair. These sections are so beautiful and bittersweet and loving, I cried and sobbed when Sheba styled Gaza’s hair, so I can imagine just how precious and self-affirming this will be to young black readers, how seen they will feel, and feel the hands and hearts of their ancestors reaching through time.
‘Breathe Sheba,‘ she says ‘Grow your gift and thrive. Try again’Nana to Sheba
Magic both African spiritual witchcraft and what may be understood to Western minds as shamanism, is woven throughout the story and into the lives of the women. Each woman of the house has a gift, whether to read hair like Sheba and Aunt Clara, cloth like Aunt Ruby or to smell emotions, arrivals or unspoken words like Grandma Baby or the power of ancestors and leadership like Nana.
The depiction of these spiritual practices was a gift, seeing the fundamental links and similarities in theory and practice, and losing oneself in the ceremony and honour of these hands on, meaningful and devotional, their all-female household may be gossiped about but they live in service with their magic to their community, solving disputes, preparing brides with trousseau and bridal wear, styling and maintaining hair and treating maladies of the body, mind and heart with essential oils.
Of course Sheba’s Mother is included in this but Sika is central to everything in her absence, and terrifying presence.
Maybe, sketch pad on lap, turns to see who’s erased my dimples, placing pinpricks of terror in my eyes.
The irony of Sika is that considering the familial heritage, her behaviour can be like a cat herself, her love and spite delivered on her terms and whims yet she has chosen instead to be carrion and feed on the dead and decaying, sorrow and grief, a wandering stealer of souls instead of the protector Queen.
There is so much more I could say about Lionheart Girl, the achingly beautiful blossoming between Sheba and Maybe, the use of language embroidered with Ghanaian words and phrases, the pain of Gaza and the importance of parenting throughout (and beautifully whether that be done by an individual, family/household or a village), the repeating themes throughout of sisterhood, of pain caused by fathers present, absent or other, and of duty.
But I would implore you instead to lose yourself and find the village with no name, to meet Sheba and walk with her on this journey quest. It is absolutely compelling and stunning.
Please check out the other stops on this tour.
Lionheart Girl by Yaba Badoe is published by Zephyr
Thank you so much for my copy