There are foundational friendships, and then there’s what Ronke, Simi, and Boo have. The Nigerian-British Protagonists of Nikki May’s Debut Novel Wahala have leaned on each other since they met in college, seeing each other through relationships, careers, medical school and, well, dropping out of medical school . So of course, this friendship is what is most threatened when the wahala (Yoruba for “problem”) really begins.
But first, we meet our heroines. Ronke, a successful dentist, is desperately trying to get her flaky boyfriend to settle down and settle into their relationship (a shared apartment and an engagement would be nice too). Boo is living out Ronke’s dream in real time with a loving husband and adorable daughter, but struggles with resentment and dissatisfaction in her life as a mother and part-time science journalist. And as a brand manager at a fashion house, Simi also seems to have it all, but she’s been keeping some big secrets from her husband Martin, like the fact that she’s still on birth control even though he thinks they are trying to have a baby.
I could barely turn the pages fast enough as the shocking ending hit home.
The three-way friendship is strong but admittedly something of a powder keg when the gorgeous and glamorous Isobel shows up with the match. Slowly but surely, Isobel insinuates herself into the group, knowing exactly which buttons to press to push each woman in the wrong direction. Boo should definitely keep flirting with his boss. Yes, Simi should pass this job interview in Shanghai without telling Martin. As the months pass, it becomes clear that Isobel’s goal is to tear apart the relationships in every woman’s life, starting with their partners, ending with their friendship. The question is – why?
Friendship is a big theme, as is parenthood; every woman has a complex relationship with her father, including those who died or did not stay. Set in London with a group of Anglo-Nigerian friends, race, racism and colorism are also on the table, and Nikki May tackles them coldly and incisively. Simi is praised at work for her “urban vibe”, Boo’s boss calls her “exotic” and Ronke is regularly mistaken for an assistant in her dental practice. As for dating? “About ninety-five percent of the Nigerian men who hit on her would hit on any yellow baby,” Simi says evenly; the four women are of mixed race. “This way [in England] there was a smaller group of men who never date a brunette woman, but about ninety-five percent of them would date any brunette woman.”
So yeah, this novel gets all the comparisons to books like Big little lies and show as Sex and the city, but this group of friends also does things that these characters can’t. (No surprise Wahala gets its own BBC TV treatment.) All the while, May’s sharp, snappy writing, dialogue and character work continue to tighten the screws on a tension-filled plot that straddles two countries, as its protagonists . While the book relied a little too heavily on the miscommunication trope, I could barely turn the pages fast enough by the time the shocking ending hit home. (My reaction: “No. What?! It’s impossible. NO!”)
“Boo knew she could join her – she was half Nigerian for fucking sake – but it all felt so foreign. For once, she envied Ronke. Her own space-wasting father had stolen her inheritance – she had been left with half an identity. No wonder she feels like an intruder in her own life.”
where you should read it
I know it’s January, but Wahala is one of those juicy beach reads that can keep you busy for hours on the sand. If you can’t go to the tropics, dive into this one under the covers.
Read this if you like. . .
The close-knit group of friends was Sex and the city-esque, but the dark plot and characters coasting to breakdowns were very Big little lies, with a hint of missing girl.
POPSUGAR Reading Challenge Prompts
This novel may check off more than one POPSUGAR 2022 Reading Challenge prompt; just choose the one that suits you best.
- A book published in 2022
- A book with a recipe in it (additional credit: Wahala together)
- A book about a secret
- A book about a party
- A book that offers two languages (plus additional credit: Wahala has three)
- A book about someone who leads a double life
How long does it take to read
Wahala is just under 370 pages and the subject matter can get intense, even if the prose flies by. You could finish this in about three days to a week.
Give this book to. . .
I could definitely see this novel sparking conversations at the book club. Also, anyone who likes the books mentioned above will like Wahala – books with serious bite, driven by flawed women.
Summary of Sweet Spot
To gather Wahala by Nikki May ($23, originally $28) for suspense, roller coaster relationships and female friendships with a serious bite.