All Over Again is a fun, well-crafted story of one school year in the life of a twelve year old boy living in the Caribbean. This book, written by Jamaican author A-dziko Simba Gegele, was the winner of the 2014 Burt Award for Caribbean Literature. I would recommend for readers 9-13 years old.
There isn’t a single story line in All Over Again, instead, each chapter narrates a new scene in the main character’s life, whether it is his altercation with the class bully or the inter-village football match. With each experience readers see the main character maturing right up until the final chapter when he is one week from turning thirteen and still struggling to understand all that being a teenager will entail.
Both Caribbean and non-Caribbean readers will recognise the characters in All Over Again. Your mother might not be the wise mother with well-chosen words like the narrator’s and your father might not have been the distracted but well-meaning dad, but you will know a mother and a father who was like this. Pre-teen and new teenaged readers will relate to the scenarios in which the main character finds himself, for example, when the narrator brings home a bad report card, he knows he is in big trouble when his mother says:
“… those two words that you dread to hear. They are small and deadly, those words. They make your heart stop beating bi-doop bi-doop and go doop-doop-doop-doop- doop-doop like it is trying to run out of your body.”
The two words? “Sit down.” Definitely words to fear when they come from a mother’s mouth.
The prose is smooth and lyrical. I was not surprised to learn that Ms. Gegele is also a poet.
Readers might long to see a little more development of some of the supporting characters. For example, the narrator’s best friend, Delroy, leaves the island during the course of the book but we learn little about how this impacts Delroy. This does not detract from the charm of the narrative or the development of the main character.
One thing that sets this story apart from most of the children’s books on the market today is that it is written from a second person point-of-view. It is a bold choice, especially for a first novel. This style is seldom used in fiction and then it is usually reserved for “Choose your own adventure books” in which the reader makes decisions that guide the action in the book. One of the reasons that it is not often used is that it can begin to come across as stilted, similar to a hard-boiled detective novel: “You approach the door. You knock. You wait for the answer.” Another reason to avoid this approach is that it is easy to alienate the reader if they don’t empathise with the character that they are expected to embody.
Ms. Gegele avoids these pitfalls. In All Over Again, readers might find the style a little unsettling at the beginning, however, as the story progresses they will warm up to the main character and the narrative’s point-of-view will no longer be an issue.
This review also appears on Amazon.