She Smiled by Joan Hephzibah is one book that had the “AH-effect” on me. Several times I kept swearing that I would shoot the next guy that I came across in the book. My exclamations ranged from “Haba!” to “Kilode!” to “Nawa o!” all indigenously supporting the motion that the main character, Chloe truly needs therapy.
The scene opens with Chloe looking ghostly with so much regret in the air but they were all interrupted by the call from the man of God. While she could evade the holy calling, she couldn’t evade the holy hug which broke her emotional barriers thus leading the man of God to prescribe a counsellor. We all have our doubts when visiting a stranger for the sole purpose of sharing our life history but the counsellor opening her doors to Chloe was the catalyst that made Chloe open her heart to her. “And so it all began one evening in Ibadan, Nigeria, West Africa…”
We are taken through Chloe’s childhood journey which wasn’t pleasant. Sickly and fast becoming a notable figure at the hospital, Chloe is forced to a life of self-doubt and low self-esteem. Her father, Papa’s obvious disdain for her doesn’t help her in any way. In fact, it would be safe to call him the anti-Christ in this book. Suffering from poor sight and periodontal disease leaves Chloe with awkward dentition and the option of using eyeglasses. Starting at a new school, she is subjected to bullying from not only her peers but also her teacher. Chloe’s journey with the boys doesn’t begin until the holidays where she works at Papa’s office. There she meets John, a nephew to one of Papa’s workers and she has her first exposure to pornography. This little secret spirals into a childish sex play which draws Chloe to her senses and leaves her with a feeling of guilt. Her ordeal with the opposite sex continues as that which is supposed to look like her disability becomes a selling point. Wherever she finds herself, she ends up being the cynosure of all masculine eyes and not even Papa’s friend is exempted. There are Ryan and Nathaniel and Akin and Frank and Luke and Femi and Supo and Tommy and Remi and more interesting figures you would come across in the book (Let’s not forget the priest in apprentice). Each of these men brings their unique attributes to the table but still fail to meet up to her standards. I must confess reading this book made me want to meet this certain Chloe everyone has been talking about. I definitely would want to know what was special about her. Maybe it was the fact that she had the Saviour by her side. Deliberate constant references to “the Saviour” without the name of the Saviour being mentioned are one thing I loved about this book. We see Chloe run to her Saviour whenever she finds herself in a tricky situation. A Saviour she found while visiting her brother Joe’s church with her elder sister while they were young. Her faith in her Saviour is unwavering, not even when she is disowned by her father. However, her relationship with her saviour is quite unlike clockwork especially when it came to her dealings with the male folks. It is hard to tell if it was her insecurity or her love for the saviour that causes her to repel ever guy that comes her way
She Smiled touches on family, religion, love, self-consciousness, sibling rivalry, pornography, cultism, strike actions, hustle, wealth, inner beauty, rejection, rebellion and many more of life, all of which, add credence to this book. It is also interesting to see how this book touches on the subject of sexuality without the act taking place between Chloe and any of the legions of guys she has befriended. One could owe it to her Saviour but Mama Joe also played a very crucial role in the upbringing of the main character. It is safe to call her a single mother as she basically was the only parent that seemed to love Chloe. For once we get to see the other side of the “African mother” that is rarely spoken of and that is the part where the African mother is the closest confidant to the daughter. There are real-life relationships between mother and daughter where the mother knows virtually everything that happens to her daughter and it was nice to see this side be brought to life. Mama Joe’s character seems to be influenced by a real-life figure which is a beautiful thing. It was sad to see Mama Joe die. She had been Chloe’s pillar all through the book but I also love reading books where someone important or loveable dies. It adds more beauty to the story.
Personally, this book called for sober reflection (don’t laugh). I say sober reflection because just like Chloe, I am surrounded by legions of female folks both those I have close acquaintances with and those who just like me. I have never had any issue being friends with them as opposed to the male counterpart. I definitely wouldn’t credit it to my looks but I know my Saviour has been very good. This part makes the book relatable even though I am the flipside of Chloe. One thing that is also relatable is how guys propose today claiming to hear from God and when you decline, they get married the next minute (wow, no mourning period). I can also very much relate to the University hustle and incessant strike actions. The choice of school is the best fit for such an incident. It is surprising how the main character is surrounded by so many guys even spends nights at their places yet there is no mention of sexual activity (except that time she tried masturbating, thanks to female influence). I was particularly perturbed she might get raped by a rogue in sheep clothing but thank God for the good boys we have in Nigeria. This book also had its fair share of humour which was skillfully infused without letting it take the shine out of the story.
Though an interesting read, I would have loved for more suspense in certain scenes. Scenes that would be stretched out with plot twists. One of which was when she was disowned by her father. The fast rate at which she discarded her male friends was something worth shaking my head and I would have loved it if she had found a better way to handle these situations. Even while she had a crush on someone she also had a crush on another side bobo yet with no real relationship (maybe that is why she needed therapy). Grammatically, this was awesome to read. Nonetheless, guys in this book need to stop disappearing or travelling abroad. I feel we could discard romantic interests in other diplomatic ways.
Above all, what I love most are the words that precede every chapter, both in short poems, sayings or verses. Some have stuck to my heart. I am glad there will be a sequel and I can’t wait to see what happens next. This is a book for both the young and the old. Its teachings on child-rearing are full of lessons. Jot them down.