Sometimes when you get served a literary meal, it’s purely for entertainment, something to just make you feel good. Other times, though, that meal has a very distinct purpose to inform or to educate. Don’t Join is one of those meals and, for the people that meal is meant to be served to, it may be one of the most important books they could consume. You see, this book is meant to serve as a warning and education to the youths of Nigeria to point them away from the terrible life in various youth gangs. Heavy stuff indeed.
As always, at this point, let’s drag out the usual ground rules:
- I attempt to rate every book from the perspective of a fan of the genre.
- I attempt to make every review as spoiler-free as possible.
Obviously, number one is a daunting task in this case. However, while I am not Nigerian, I did spend part of my youth among rougher crowds, so I have at least a small point of perspective. So, with that in mind, does Mr. Ahubelem make his point in Don’t Join and does he accomplish it in a way that is appealing to a reader instead of laying out boring tracts that would turn away the very people who need to read this?
I would argue that he does. Written in the first person, Don’t Join uses that perspective to get deep inside the head of the protagonist and his journey. No punches are pulled and nothing is spared from examination in looking at the character’s situation, while at the same time, no characters are dehumanized. You see, it’s very easy to take a story with a moral message and, in the vigor to want to get that message across, turn the people opposite that message into inhuman monsters. Mr. Ahubelem deftly avoids that: even the most ruthless criminals depicted over the book’s course are not reduced to a caricature, but at the same time are not idolized. It helps the reader sympathize with the characters and makes them relatable enough to recognize the mistakes they make and feel for the consequences of their actions.
What I found especially fascinating is the dynamic multiculturalism depicted in the book. It may not be something that would be eye opening to a native of Nigeria, but for me as an outsider, the depth of faith and mythologies from around the world combining in this boiling pot was amazing. It goes hand in hand with the attention to detail that Mr. Ahubelem shows throughout the book.
Now, as you know, I can be a bit of a picky eater, so let’s talk about the one bit of this meal that almost made me throw it out: the writing style. Again, this needs to be chalked up, most likely, to the dialect: no matter the language, every country filters it through their own culture, and I am not Nigerian. The language, though grammatically correct, can be very difficult for an American like myself to parse. Once I processed the first few chapters, though, I got used to the writing style and syntax and the book became much easier to digest. Still, that early part as my gut adjusted to the new flavors almost made me turn away. Potential reader be warned!
At the end of the meal, how did this starving reviewer feel about Don’t Join? There is no denying that it is a harsh dish and very ethnic: it was whipped up to serve a distinct need for a distinct culture. The fact is, though, that even as an outsider to the culture, I found the inherent flavors, once my palate adjusted, to be most eye-opening. Once I adjusted to the language, the narrative itself is compelling and I wanted to finish the book in short order. So, in the lens of the culture and what this book intends to do, I have to whole-heartedly approve. If I had to give any caveat, it is not for the faint of heart and it is not for those who aren’t interested in learning about other cultures.
FINAL VERDICT: ***** (Hard for an outsider’s palate at the start, but the eye-opening flavor carries through strong by the end no matter your origin)