Andre Fenton’s second novel Annaka is a whirlwind. The narrative follows 16-year-old Annaka Brooks as she returns home to Yarmouth, Nova Scotia for her Grampy’s funeral. Though much of her adolescence has been tarnished by feelings of loneliness and difference, her homecoming provides opportunities to rebuild connections with family and friends and to figure out key secrets from her past. Clay, her childhood imaginary friend, poses a particularly interesting reunion. His re-emergence is a catalyst for Annaka that not only pushes against her understanding of reality but also opens a space for her to re-establish a sense of herself. Annaka is a self-described “seeker” and throughout the novel, she transforms into someone who faces difficult situations head-on.
She often stumbles on this journey. She is stubborn, demanding, and at times selfish. Yet she is also patient, raw, and increasingly emotionally mature. Though some of the secondary characters get a bit lost, Fenton adeptly develops his central character. Glimmers of Annaka’s willingness to reassess and reconsider her own role in different scenarios are particularly wonderful. Likewise, her navigation of old friendships is engaging and sincere. This portrayal of Annaka’s maturation goes against common and simplistic depictions of teenage girls as overly enthusiastic, flighty, unaware, or self-absorbed. There is a depth to her character that makes her feel like someone I would’ve loved to have known while growing up in my own hometown.
Much like Annaka herself, rural Nova Scotia proves to be a complicated place. There are idyllic scenes, like the visits to the lighthouse she remembers through Clay or descriptions of the “Moonlight . . . on my bedsheets through the window and . . . crickets chirping.” But there are some darker moments too. The spectres family secrets and community complicity haunt Annaka’s understanding of her world. Each plot twist develops through a series of magical and heartbreaking events. This structure allows for mature concepts to be explored with both honesty and humour.
In the book’s acknowledgements, Fenton expresses that “It’s not every day we see an African Nova Scotian fantasy novel.” He is right, and descriptions of Annaka’s experience as a half-black teen in the province illuminate an important set of experiences that are often left out of the region’s literature. For example, she tells readers: “There is a big misconception about Yarmouth having no black people, but that’s where Nan’s people stem from. Nova Scotia isn’t as white as people think it is, even if it is pretty white sometimes. ” In such moments, Annaka outlines the erasure of her family’s vibrant history and continuing presence in Nova Scotia, while also centring a dynamic depiction of the African Nova Scotian community.
Readers are prompted to ask themselves significant questions while reading Annaka. What is our responsibility to those we love? How must we be accountable to others and, when we misstep, how do we get back to a place of support and care? What makes a home—is it the people, the place, or the actions we take in order to create the kind of world we desire and deserve? Filtered through Fenton’s playful yet poetic prose, questions of belonging, maturation, loss, and grief all inform a fantastical account of Annaka’s life. Though a Young Adult novel, I would recommend Annaka to any reader who longs for a beautiful and mysterious escape into one girl’s search for belonging and connection.
About the author: Andre Fenton is an award-winning author, spoken-word artist, and arts educator. He has represented Halifax at seven national poetry festivals across Canada, and his award-winning debut novel, Worthy of Love, was published in 2018. Andre’s work focuses on race, self-esteem, and creating more representation in young adult fiction. Annaka is Andre’s second novel. He lives in Halifax, Nova Scotia.
- Annaka by Andre Fenton
- Paperback: 288 pages
- ISBN-10: 1771088923
- ISBN-13: 978-1771088923
- Publisher: Nimbus Publishing (June 16, 2020)
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