Updated: Jan 26, 2022
Looking Up by Abena Eyeson tells the story through the eyes of teenage girl Esi, who leaves her Tesano suburb in Accra to live with her mum in south-west London.
Since she was little, Esi has been raised by her maternal grandmother and aunt, and lived also with her cousin Ama. This book explores the impact of migration and loss, relationships and culture and is narrated from the voice of a teen, which I felt added a level of intimacy to the story.
Below are five reasons why I enjoyed the book and one recommendation.
Migration and loss
We hear the story of migration through the voice of Esi. It’s a story that is familiar to many children of migrants that are called abroad once their parents have settled in a foreign land.
This story is my sister’s story, who came to the U.K. around the same age as Esi, and highlights some of those feelings of grief, fear, excitement and uncertainty that Esi encountered.
Typically, an overriding consideration of migrant parents is the assumed positives that leaving one land has over staying in another. This book explores the loss that comes with migration (not just Esi’s) and the assumption that where you are leaving to go to is always better than staying put.
Esi essentially doesn’t want to leave her stability. She has a stronger parental bond with her maternal grandmother than her mum, and has not seen her dad since she was four. She goes to one of the best schools in Ghana and naturally is told that an education in the U.K. would outstrip that. But is that the case when she arrives?
The child’s voice
It’s so powerful to hear Esi speak her emotions - something that is not culturally encouraged in Ghana among adults - never mind children. I believe Esi is not allowed to be vocally hesitant or scared about leaving the safety of Ghana. Neither is she allowed the space to speak about her misgivings about living in the U.K., its educational system, the treatment she receives because she is different and feeling homesick. None of these are points she can express to her mum without being shutdown.
But it’s powerful to hear these thoughts come through in Esi’s strong narrative. And as the book develops, that voice gets louder with interesting consequences.
'Looking Up' made me ponder on what it must have felt like for my pre-teen sister to leave everything she knew in Ghana and make a new life in the UK. We often overlook the impact that this has on children. Abena's book addresses it.
Racism and prejudice
Those of us that are or have lived abroad pick up on the sometimes subtle examples of racism that Esi experiences - from how her name is pronounced to assumptions made about her appearance. These extend out to assumptions about her academic ability too and potentially have an implication on her educational prospects.
Esi’s story is written in a journal-like style that you can imagine a child of her age using. This is facilitated by short chapters in the book which speed the reading along, and the straight-to-the-point language used in narration. I read this book over three evenings after work.
It’s a powerful theme running through this book from the strong bond Esi has with her grandmother, aunt and cousin to the displacement Esi feels when her mum’s parenting style differs. She develops a strong bond with her new friends including Kojo and marvels at the intimacy he enjoys with his own parents - something she clearly craves ( particularly with the absence of her dad).
Recommendation - a sequel.
I loved the pace of the book which starts in Accra and follows Esi’s migration to London. I felt like the challenges of her family did not need to be concluded in the book but could have been developed further into a sequel. I would have liked to see her return to Ghana and explore her growth between that period.
You can learn more about the author and details on where to source the book by visiting our interview with Abena here - Ghanaians in Literature.