Frying Plantain by Zalika Reid-Benta is a sizzling and wonderous debut novel that you will fly through and absolutely love- I promise you!
I sat down and read Frying Plantain in one sitting, it was utterly interesting and delightful. Frying Plantain is a collection of twelve interconnected stories that follows Kara Davis from elementary school to university. Kara Davis is a Canadian by birth, both her mother and grandmother are Jamaican. The neighbourhood she lives in is a melting pot of Caribbean people and cultures. Kara is trying to fit in with her Jamaican friends but they think she isn’t a “true Jamaican”, she also tries to find balance and friendship with the children she goes to schools with but they are from a different world.
The book opens with Kara visiting Jamaica for the summer holidays with her mother and grandmother. We see how Kara interacts with her cousins and how those interactions will move on to shape her identity as a Jamaica. I particularly loved that the author choose this as the opening story, because a lot of times you read stories like this, but we never see the character visiting the country they are so connected to.
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The author did a solid job of exploring an authentic mother daughter relationship, specifically with the mother being from the Caribbean. We view Kara’s relationship with her controlling mother who seems to be trying to hold it all together and just want her daughter to finish school and go to university. Kara is constantly being told “do not end up like me” and we see how those words carry into Kara’s actions and how she views her mother.
What I loved about this book is how truly authentic the narrative feels. Benta captures exactly what it feels like to be a teenager and all the fears that goes into growing up. More specifically Benta captures exactly what it feels to be a teenager from Caribbean parents who drill into your head “do not turn out like me”. As much as Kara is a young girl from Caribbean heritage her story feels so relatable. For the girl who lives in fear of her Mom, who is constantly sneaking around or having to hide things and is always that person who cannot hang out with her friends because her Mom doesn’t allow it- you know that girl- that is Kara.
This is such a rich collection of interconnected stories. The characters are well formed and you can relate to each of their story. For me, the Grandmother felt so much like my grandmother and I was so floored by that. I loved how Benta explored Grandmother-Mother-Daughter relationships- it was rich and fully formed- I could not get enough of it. We see three generation of women all trying to be the best version of themselves but culture is ever present and we see how they try to navigate that.
A truly amazing debut novel and I cannot wait to hear more from Zalika Reid-Benta.
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