Everyone’s Thinking It by Aleema Omontoni is our first young adult fiction at Shelf Interest Book Club. Think Mean Girls meets Dear White People in this big-hearted, sharp-witted UK boarding school story about family, friendship, and belonging - with a propulsive mystery at its heart. Within the walls of Wodebury Hall, an elite boarding school in the English countryside, reputation is everything. But aspiring photographer Iyanu is more comfortable observing things safely from behind her camera.
For Iyanu’s estranged cousin, Kitan, life seems perfect. She has money, beauty, and friends like queen bee Heather. But as a Nigerian girl in a school as white and insular as Wodebury, Kitan struggles with the personal sacrifices needed to keep her place and the protection she gets within the exclusive popular crowd.
Then photos from Iyanu’s camera are stolen and splashed across the school the week before the Valentine’s Day Ball, each with a juicy secret written on it. With everyone’s dirty laundry suddenly out in the open, the school explodes in chaos, and the whispers accusing Iyanu of being the one behind it all start to feel like déjà vu. Each girl is desperate to unravel the mystery of who stole the photos and why. But exposing the truth will change them all forever.
We interviewed Aleema Omotoni, in December at our book club event, Cake Art & Author link up. Where she was able to tell us a-bit about her upbringing and her debut book. During the interview, we learnt she is a British-Nigerian author who grew up in London. She writes novels that centre Black teens coming of age, falling in love, and navigating all kinds of contemporary and fantasy worlds. She loves musical theatre, astrophysics, and rainy autumn days.
It’s always a gamble picking a book that our book club members will enjoy but Everyone’s Thinking It was our biggest gamble yet as it’s a YA book. Majority, if not all, of our members aren’t young adults as such. But to our surprise (and relief), the book received good reception from our members, with several finishing the book in a day or two.
People appreciated that the book touched on relevant modern themes, such as sexuality, race and class. They also enjoyed learning about the inner workings of boarding school, which we got to learn on the day we interviewed Aleema, that she had also attended boarding school.
Even though the book shed light on biphobia and queerphobia, most people in the book didn't care and weren't judgmental of sexuality which felt hopeful for our members. When Kitan went home, our book club members liked how she was able to show a different side of herself, similar to many of us that can put on a mask when in a white-majority setting.
Anxiety was described empathetically so the reader could better understand why certain characters behave the way they did. They were various characters with situations, narrated from different perspectives. It is difficult to make each voice distinguished when a lot of characters are involved but Aleema did a great job at that. Parents were actively involved in their children’s lives, they had good relationships and communicated well with their children. The book broke down some of the stereotypes of rich parents leaving their kids in boarding school due to the incapacity to take care of their child’s everyday needs.
For some it was their first YA book, so we’re glad we were able to introduce something new to people. Others thought it was a slow burner as the plot took too long to get it.
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