I Smell Wahala: A Book Review

Ronke wants what many women want: to find “the one,” to have a happy home burgeoning with children, and to live happily ever after. Simi is living a “golden” life with her “golden” husband and their “golden” marriage. Boo is a married mother of one but doesn’t want to be but also wants to be.

These women have been friends for a long time. They tell each other (almost) everything and are inseparable. Simi and Boo give Ronke a lot of tough love and frequently opine about the choices Ronke makes concerning her love life. Ronke is an amazing cook and is always supportive and wants a life similar to Boo’s. Though the three of them withhold a few secrets from each other (sometimes certain things can’t be spoken into existence), they’re stuck like glue to each other. That is until Hurricane Isobel blows into town.

Isobel is everything all three of these women are not: glamorous, chic, divorced. As Ronke says, “[Isobel] seems so confident, so self-assured, so…shiny.” Simi knew Isobel when they were children, drifted apart as they got older and have reconnected now that Isobel is living her best [divorced] life. At first, Isobel seems harmless. A bit, rambunctous and obnoxious, sure, but overall harmless.

We quickly learn otherwise.

From the beginning, Isobel attempts to be the center of everyone’s world. She goes jogging with Boo, gets Simi an interview for an amazing opportunity in Shanghai, and even starts a cautious friendship with Ronke. But the more she remains in these women’s lives, the more things fall apart.

Simi’s “golden” life turns out to be fool’s gold: she and her husband, Martin, had been trying for a baby. Rather, Martin wanted a baby and Simi wouldn’t admit to anyone, not even herself, that she didn’t want one until she was pregnant. So she had an abortion and never told anyone–not Martin or even her girls. But for some reason, she told Isobel.

Boo loves her husband, Didier, and daughter, Sophia, right? Who knows. She has an affair with an associate after some encouragement from Isobel. Her excuse is that she feels unfulfilled with her life as a mother and wife, but she never tells any of this to anyone, specifically her husband with whom she shares a life. She only speaks about it to Isobel. For a time, Isobel is also the only one who knows about Boo’s affair.

Ronke, well…Ronke didn’t trust Isobel. She said from the beginning that she got bad vibes from her and what did her friends do? They gaslighted her. There isn’t anything that happens to her that she hasn’t told the others. Ronke (the only main character I liked) wears her heart on her sleeve. She’s overly apologetic, but also timidly honest. She just wants the best for herself and those closest to her. But, the kicker here is that once upon a time Isobel dated Ronke’s present boo, Kayode.

This is where the wahala, the Youruba word for “trouble,” begins.

This book was described as having women who were the most memorable since Carrie, Samantha, Charlotte, and Miranda. A someone who has an unhealthy obsession with Sex and the City, that’s a tall order to fill. With that comparison, I was instantly drawn in.

There was a period of time, in my late teens-early twenties, when chick-lit/contemporary fiction was my jam. Sci-fi/Fantasy was and is my favorite genre, but sometimes you go through a phase and need to change things up. Chick-lit was that for me.

I’ve rarely dipped my toe back into that genre once I outgrew that phase, so this was a pleasant return to that for me. The way this book is written does a fantastic job of sticking with that category. The conversations between the women were humorous and relatable (at times). The drama was mouthwatering. And I felt myself getting emotionally involved with the characters’ decisions and circumstances.

The chapters are told from each woman’s (save Isobel’s) point of view. You get to learn how they operate, what they’re feeling or stressing about, and I genuinely loved this for the book. A lot of chick-lit (and chick-flicks) tend to be from a single person’s point of view. It was nice to see differing perspectives and be in their heads as well.

I did not see the twist coming! I knew Isobel was trouble, knew someone would die, but I had no idea the person to die would be [SPOILER] Kayode! This hurt me to my core, my response visceral.

All in all, an enjoyable read.

Now, here’s what I didn’t like. One thing that was a drawback for me was the obsession most of these women seemed to have with being in a mixed race couple. The women (Simi and Boo specifically) straight up dogged Black men but Nigerian men in particular. They frequently gave Ronke, who hadn’t had the best luck in her love life, grief for dating Black men. Additionally, they tried to imply that the reason for Ronke’s lack of a successful love life was because she kept dating Black men.

I am a huge proponent of loving who you love, so please don’t misunderstand me. My issue was that, to me, this came across as more of a calculated effort to specifically choose a white man regardless of who he is or what he brings to the table and less of these women finding someone with whom they were compatible with who just happened to be white. Simi and Boo gave off the impression that they were extremely anti-Black and this bothered me to the point of being distracted by it.

This brings me to the women. Honestly, none of the women, save one, were likeable for me. The fact that Isobel was able to, rather easily, infiltrate this group bothered me. All of these women, except Ronke, had secrets that they hadn’t told anyone, not even each other. That part is fine–people have their own traumas and issues that, sometimes, they just don’t want to tell anyone. But these issues that they seemingly never wanted to be told were suddenly told to a relative stranger like Isobel?

Come on, now.

How close were they if Isobel was able to worm her way into these women’s friendships and single-handedly destroy them? It seems incredibly unrealistic and I know how that sounds because this is a fiction book we’re talking about, but even by fictional standards it just seemed unbelievable. I know that some people just have that gravitas and are expert manipulators, but I don’t buy that these women just spilled their guts to her that easily. Or maybe they did and that just speaks to why I think these women probably shouldn’t be friends in the first place.

Boo flipped on Ronke quickly. For someone who has a decades-long friendship with someone, it took no time at all for Boo to turn on Ronke. After Boo’s affair, the guilt begins eating her alive, but she never destroys evidence of the flirtation (emails, for example). Isobel is the only on who know about these emails. At a party, Boo and Simi get tipsy and bad-mouth Ronke. Though Ronke is devastated, Boo never seems to want to own up to what she did.

When news of her affair is aired, Boo blames Ronke. Ronke did know of the affair well after the fact, but she didn’t know the details. Didn’t know that Boo was still entertaining a mild flirtation with the man and even suggested that Book quit her job to get away from the temptation. At no point did she imply she would tell Didier the truth. Isobel, however, knew everything. Why Boo didn’t think she would tell is beyond me.

Simi didn’t exactly turn on Ronke, but she didn’t quite stand up for her either. Because Simi didn’t trust Ronke’s instincts with men, Simi just seemed to discount most everything she said about Isobel. Isobel is the only one who knows about Simi’s abortion for awhile and yet she also thought Ronke spilled the beans about it when Martin finds out the truth. While Simi was quicker to put the pieces together, she still was a part of bashing Ronke the majority of the book.

Ronke, in my opinion, is the only redeemable character is this book–and she didn’t need redemption! She was dumped on the entire book, finds out the awful truth about her fathers death, is told that her man is cheating on her when he isn’t, and then that same man is killed before they could ever reconcile. She couldn’t catch a break! This frustrated me to no end.

Isobel is the villain. There’s no need to have expected better from her, but the fact that she didn’t get any sort of come-uppance was a huge disappointment. Everything Isobel did, she got away with an the way it was framed seemed hollow to me. As a result, the ending felt unresolved. This is not a new/novel idea, having the villain get away with their crimes, but the way it was executed left much to be desired and, honestly, felt a tad rushed.

Ronke was the only one with whose happiness I was invested. Like I said, girl couldn’t catch a break. Furthermore, I was so frustrated that Boo and Simi refused to be honest with not only themselves but also their spouses. The majority, if not all, of these problems could’ve been avoided if they had been more forthcoming with their feelings. It all ended up being incredibly vexing for me, which is why I can’t say I loved loved the book.

I could go on and on about my thoughts and observations regarding this book. At the end of the day, it was still a thrilling ride that I was happy to go on and I would probably do it again.

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