My Name is Konisola
Alisa Siegel, Author
Second Story Press, Fiction, Mar. 17, 2020
Suitable for ages: 9-12
Themes: Refugees, Nigeria, Canada, Generosity, Hope, Community
On a freezing cold winter night, nine-year-old Konisola and her mother step off a plane in Canada. They have almost nothing with them except the clothes on their backs. They are running for their lives from an abusive uncle in Nigeria.
Soon after they land, disaster strikes. Konisola’s mother becomes sick, and Konisola is forced to fend for herself in a strange country with no family or friends. Then she meets a remarkable Canadian nurse, and things begin to change for the better. But Konisola’s future remains uncertain. Will this new life, this new home and the friendships she has found be taken from her? Will she be allowed to stay in Canada as a refugee? Will her mother? Or will they both be sent back across the ocean?
Why I like this book:
I love to share stories of hope and generosity of the human spirit, especially when it relates to refugees. They leave behind their families, homes and lives because of persecution, abuse, and war, and seek refuge in a strange new country. In My Name is Konisola, it is Canada who opens its arms to embrace Konisola (Konnie) and her mother Abimbola.
Alisa Siegel’s captivating novel is based on a true story — a bonus for readers. Siegel does an excellent job of comparing and constrasting the real challenges Konisola faces as she begins her new life in Canada. They are moved from apartment to apartment in the beginning. She can’t speak English, doesn’t understand the customs and isn’t allowed to leave the apartment.
Konisola is a brave, strong and resilient 9-year-old girl. When her sick mother is hospitalized, she moves again, this time to live with a kind nurse, Darlene Priestman, and her family. She feels like a stranger living with a white family. Everything is unfamiliar. She is afraid of the family cat — in Nigeria cats aren’t pets. Shopping malls and grocery stores overwhelm her. They aren’t like the open-air markets at home. When Darlene takes Konisola to visit her mother at the hospital for the first time, she gags at the smells. Seeing her mother so thin and ill is upsetting.
The relationship between Konisola and Darlene is endearing. Darlene is patient and loving. She always rushes to Konisola’s bedside when she has nightmares about her uncle’s rampages. After Darlene gets off work, she takes Konisola to visit her mother every evening. Darlene gets permission to bring Abimbola to her home for Christmas Eve festivities and has Nigerian friends prepare her favorite dishes.
The pacing is fast and the chapters are short, making this story a quick read. The plot is engaging. There is friction between Konisola and Darlene’s grown daughter, Sara, who bosses Konisola around. At school Konisola wants to blend in and not stand out, but her English is poor. Kids tease her about being a refugee and living with a white mother. She makes friends with one friend, Omara. She worries about the upcoming Immigration and Refugee hearing to determine their fate.
This is a story about a community wrapping their arms around a girl and her mother. There are many more characters who step in and help: a counselor who works with Konisola and helps her design a special shawl for her mother; a retired children’s lawyer who advises on immigration matters; doctors and nurses from the hospital who go above and beyond to help; and the local Nigerian community.
I won’t spoil the ending, so you will have to read the story. I highly recommend this story as it is a wonderful addition to any school library. Make sure you read the Epilogue.
Alisa Siegel makes radio documentaries for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. Her work has been recognized with many international awards. Her first radio documentary was a story about her father’s escape from Germany to the West Indies on the eve of the Second World War. Over the past 20 years, Alisa has produced stories on subjects as varied as the Underground Railroad for refugees in Fort Erie, daring women artists in 1920s Montreal, the return of the trumpeter swan, Canadian nurses in World War I and violence in elementary school classrooms. She lives in Toronto with her family.
*Review copy provided by publisher.