The Private Joys of Nnenna Maloney

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 21 Oct 2019

Member Reviews

I found this book's title quite misleading. It suggests that the primary focus of the book will be on Nnenna when the book flits between different characters' points of view and might even focus most on Joanie Maloney, Nnenna's mother, the most. In fact Nnenna's character is quite shell-like. I wouldn't say I know a huge deal about her after having read the book.
I also found the opening chapter very much at odds with the title and it nearly put me off.
There were some interesting/well-written passages but overall I think this book had a strong concept which didn't quite deliver.
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The Private Joys of Nnenna Maloney is an extraordinary debut novel. The pains of growing up being a teenager are universal, and many novels capture this in a 'coming of age' genre but I have never read a book which captures the complexities and nuances of this period of your life in a way that recognises incredibly difficult issues, but also manages to be incredibly funny and heartwarming at the same time. 

I would hesitate to describe this as 'coming of age' because alongside the life of the very bright and capable bi-racial Nnenna, we get the story of her white mother Joanie, and Joanie's university friend, Jonathan who is still coming to terms with his identity as a black gay man, even in his 40s. The book is about how we are all still learning, even as adults. Nnenna is almost 17, a clever teenager, who excels at languages and who is inspired and excited by the potential of what she can do in the world. Joanie sacrificed her own potential to have her daughter, and is struggling to let Nnenna go. The narrative bounces between Nnenna's life in 2009 and her mothers experiences at university 18 years prior. 

Nzelu packs so much into this book, from mental health and suicide, to dealing with intersectional identities. The book has a small cast of characters, but every one of them is fully fleshed and complex, with lives and story lines of their own, not just rotating around Nnenna. At times the broken relationships and the characters who are at rock bottom are tear inducing, yet this is perfectly balanced with pervasive humour and warmth which shows us that even in the darkest of times, there is something to be salvaged, something we can find joy in. 

What I loved most about this book is that Nzelu doesn't depart from reality by giving readers a fairy tale happy ending. He acknowledges that some relationships stay broken and that some change with time. He gives us hope that connections can be made, but without ever suggesting that this will be instantaneous or easy. 

I would push this truly wonderful book into the hands of any person from the age of 15 upwards. It is not only ideal for those who are Nnenna's age but anyone in their 20s, parents and all adults who are still coming to terms with aspects of their own identities, or who are going through any difficult period of their life. This is a book which will help you to understand perspectives of others, as well as making you cry with sadness and joy, and simply warming your heart.
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An enjoyable modern comedy of manners, somewhat reminiscent of Patrick Gale (which is high praise indeed from me) or Mary Wesley, if she'd ever discovered intersectional feminism.
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I so wanted to enjoy this book as I’d heard so much about it and liked the look of the cover. I found it hard to read as it didn’t flow well for me. I didn’t bond with the characters early enough and just as I was getting interested in a chapter/scene. The science changed too quickly. Maybe I just wasn’t in the right place to read it but I couldn’t finish this and it’s rare for me. I may come back to it or rush to the end as I’m intrigued to know what happened to her father. 


*An e-copy of this book was kindly provided to me by the publisher, Dialogue Books / Little Brown Book Group UK, via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review
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I normally take to YA books quite quickly but I just wasn't a fan of this at all. Nnenna is a teenage girl of mixed race who doesn't know much about her Nigerian father and her mum isn't forthcoming with any details. I found the pace really slow and the religious undertones just really weren't for me. There's a mix of timelines which was a little confusing and overall I just don't think I'm the target audience for it.
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This is a charming, thought provoking book about a young girl on the verge of adulthood who is struggling to come to terms with her identity, and mark out her place in the world.

We deal with a lot of important topics; race, sexuality and teen pregnancy to name a few, spanning across an array of diverse characters. Unfortunately, the book as a whole didn't do much for me. 

The flicking between perspectives became convoluted at times, and I started to wonder why the author had chosen to give us an insight on certain moments that didn't seem to add any value to the story, and certainly didn't expand my interest. The start was promising and I was hooked for the first 30% or so, but it became clear eventually that the story wasn't really going anywhere. The ending offered no resolution to all the questions that had been set up throughout. Ultimately, the satisfaction I craved upon finishing the title never came.

I really wanted to enjoy this, but sadly it wasn't for me.
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Thanks to NetGalley and The Publisher for this eARC in exchange for an honest review.

3.5 stars round up.

Nnenna Maloney is 16 year old mixed-raced girl trying to understand herself and her place in the world, while trying to keep everyone happy. She lives with her white mother and knowns very little about her Nigerian Father. She is surrounded by a bunch of interesting characters who are all following their own paths to  happiness.

Essentially this a coming of age story for young adult. Very witty but deals with important issues with sensitivity. It's lovely to have a widely diverse set of characters - different ages, genders, sexual orientation, social-economic status and races too, all without unnecessary frivolity. I especially like that fact that it showed that adults still grapple with their identity and place in the world, so there's no need to have it all figured out by 18.

While I like the different time lines, I'm not sure why the author choose those specific years.

A fun and thoughtful read that I think the young adult market will really relate to and those older will reminisce on.
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I received an advanced reader’s copy in exchange for an honest review 

I really wanted to like this book. But it never seemed to transcend awareness of it’s own cleverness
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I was browsing the NetGalley catalogue the other night and stumbled across this title. I had never heard of it before but it had a ringing endorsement from Candice Carty-Williams, author of Queenie, that went as follows 'Effortlessly capture[s] the tricky nuance of life, love, race, sexuality and familial relationships' and I thought that sounds fabulous plus I adored Queenie so I put in a request and the next day this eARC made its way into my hands. 

AND WOW AM I SO GLAD I READ IT!!!!

This book is an effervescent delight. It absolutely fizzes with wit and humour that made it a joy to read from page one; I laughed heartily all the way through that fantastic opening epilogue! But the story also shakes you to the core with its stripped back emotion and honesty. 

The novel primarily follows the titular character Nnenna Maloney. 
Nnenna is nearly seventeen years old and is just on that precipice between childhood and adulthood. Nnenna is to all intents and purposes a model sixteen-nearly-seventeen year old. She works hard at school, is a loving daughter, a good friend... 
But something is missing. 
Nnenna is mixed race and constantly questions her identity; in particular her feelings about being black as she has been brought up by her white single mother Joanie in Manchester and knows next to nothing about her father Maurice. This crisis of identity leads to a strain on her relationship with her mother (and her boyfriend) as she seeks out knowledge about both her father and her Nigerian Igbo heritage without her mother's knowing. 

We also get to see life through Nnenna's mum Joanie's eyes. And see how paralysed she is by the thoughts of her daughter growing up and why it is she is so unable to discuss Nnenna's father with Nnenna. The book uses flashbacks to show us what life was like for Joanie when as a university student she fell in love with Maurice and got pregnant with Nnenna. 

The book also includes the viewpoint of Joanie and Maurice's friend Jonathan and shows how difficult it has been for him as a gay man struggling with his identity and depression throughout his whole life. His story ingeniously links the character arcs of both Nnenna and Joanie as he becomes almost an intermediary for understanding between mother and daughter as his own search for belonging is something that both mother and daughter are able to relate to. But don't misunderstand me, he is not just in the book to serve their storylines as his own character arc is treated with just as much importance. He is also my favourite character in the book. 

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It is so incredibly well written with great characters that really made me empathise with them and their storylines. What was so great is that when I was reading the viewpoint of Nnenna I was totally on board with her being so angry at her mum and wanted to pretty much slap her mum for being so stubborn and pigheaded... And yet as soon as the book took up Joanie's side of the story I completely understood her and desperately wanted Nnenna to see things from her mum's point of view... I just love that this book has messy characters!!! It made them seem all the more real and believable. 

And I loved all of the side characters!!! Especially Nnenna's group of teenage friends. Each character added worth and a dynamism to the storyline and I just loved how everyone had their own little character arc. It is so rare to read a book with so many comprehensible minor storylines that truly enrich the major plot of the book. 

I highly recommend this to anyone who likes their reads to make them laugh but also to make them feel incredibly moved. And to anyone who wants to read more about societal attitudes to race and race-related privileges/disadvantages in modern day UK. 

four and a half stars

*An e-copy of this book was kindly provided to me by the publisher, Dialogue Books / Little Brown Book Group UK, via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review*
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The Private Joys of Nnenna Maloney is a funny, fresh, and touching novel about a teenager growing up and wanting to know more about herself, whilst her mother learns how to share with her daughter the past she's been trying to ignore. Nnenna Maloney is nearly seventeen and lives in Manchester, where people are always wondering about Nnenna and her white mother Joanie. Nnenna wants to connect with her Nigerian heritage, but Joanie doesn't want to talk about the father Nnenna has never known, or deal with the fact that linguist Nnenna might want to study in Paris. And people around them are also probing their own identities, amidst the backdrop of Manchester and everyday life.

This is a novel brimming with sparkle, but also delving deep into questions of race, family, identity, sexuality, and class in a witty and tender way. Nnenna is a great teenage protagonist, torn between her love for her mother and her desire to go against what her mother wants to become her own person, and her and Joanie's relationship is carefully crafted to capture their closeness but also the ways in which Joanie can't quite understand what Nnenna faces due to race and also how her anxiety relates to this. The supporting characters are memorable, from the mental health and dating struggles of a gay black man to the hints of a burgeoning relationship on the edges of Nnenna's friendship group, and the characters are tied together nicely as the plot moves forward.

Heartwarming and hard-hitting, this is a novel you can really get invested in, that looks at how people's identity changes at formative times in their life. It is refreshing to have a novel set in Manchester that looks at how real people live and captures the ups and downs of growing up.
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