The Private Joys of Nnenna Maloney by Okechukwu Nzelu

The Private Joys of Nnenna Maloney is a funny, fresh, and touching novel about a teenager growing up and wanting to know more about herself, whilst her mother learns how to share with her daughter the past she’s been trying to ignore. Nnenna Maloney is nearly seventeen and lives in Manchester, where people are always wondering about Nnenna and her white mother Joanie. Nnenna wants to connect with her Nigerian heritage, but Joanie doesn’t want to talk about the father Nnenna has never known, or deal with the fact that linguist Nnenna might want to study in Paris. And people around them are also probing their own identities, amidst the backdrop of Manchester and everyday life.

This is a novel brimming with sparkle, but also delving deep into questions of race, family, identity, sexuality, and class in a witty and tender way. Nnenna is a great teenage protagonist, torn between her love for her mother and her desire to go against what her mother wants to become her own person, and her and Joanie’s relationship is carefully crafted to capture their closeness but also the ways in which Joanie can’t quite understand what Nnenna faces due to race and also how her anxiety relates to this. The supporting characters are memorable, from the mental health and dating struggles of a gay black man to the hints of a burgeoning relationship on the edges of Nnenna’s friendship group, and the characters are tied together nicely as the plot moves forward.

Heartwarming and hard-hitting, this is a novel you can really get invested in, that looks at how people’s identity changes at formative times in their life. It is refreshing to have a novel set in Manchester that looks at how real people live and captures the ups and downs of growing up.