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Halcyon Days: All Over Again by A-dZiko Simba Gegele

A-dZiko Simba Gegele reads from All Over Again

In her debut novel, award-winning poet and playwright A-dZiko Simba Gegele brings us the story of a boy who is figuring out what it means to grow up. Winner of the inaugural Burt Award for Caribbean Literature, All Over Again is more scrapbook than novel, which is not to say that it is more scrap than book. Far from it. Much like perusing a photo album, one is invited to watch memories blossom into stories, stories that sketch rather picturesquely a year in the life of a boy on the cusp of adolescence.

The stories, told daringly from the seldom-used second-person narrative, are moments crashing into other moments that are sometimes memorable. There is no real plot or agenda at work here, but Simba Gegele's slice of life style of writing is eminently effective in exploring the metamorphosis from little boy to young man.

In her protagonist, we find an overwhelmingly average character, easily relatable (an everyboy, if you will) through whom we experience the town of Riverland and its citizens: mothers who dance like bags of water, fathers who ask unreasonable questions, demanding little sisters, girls who sit in the third row from the front and smile at you. All Over Again captures memories of shame and pride, loss and love, of the ubiquitously Caribbean theme of triumph through adversity.

What makes this novel appealing is its simplicity, the utter lack of demands it places on the reader, inviting us only to relax and have a rollicking good time. The second-person narrative with its directive almost authoritarian style is partly to thank for this, but so too is the subject matter. The affairs and concerns of a twelve-year old boy in a sleepy little town are no grave and pressing matters, yet they are engaging enough to keep us entertained.

All Over Again by A-dZiko Simba Gegele

'But what about catching peenie wallie,' y

ou say, 'and racing go carts down Carter's Hill and jumping off Jackman bridge and climbing the star apple tree behind the Baptist church and Grand Market and fire crackers?'

But this absence of gravitas forces us to try a little harder to suspend our disbelief. Present reality is a far cry from Simba Gegele's halcyon days, and the average Jamaican boy has a lot more to worry about than catching peenie wallie and racing go carts. The novel, quite understandably, declines any aspiration to heights of social and moral commentary, but doing so leaves a gap that must be bridged by the reader's suspension of disbelief.

Not that any audience would have any limits to their imagination. Ten to thirteen year old boys, who are most likely to be enthralled, are not known for their staunchly logical thought processes, and Simba Gegele does much to tickle their fancy. The tenuous eloquence of twelve year old speech is captured skillfully, which will intrigue younger readers but may leave older readers (and girls) struggling to catch up with his boyish exuberance.

For the most part All Over Again makes it easy to immerse oneself in the stories, easy to care about and share in the protagonist's triumphs and sorrows. Facilitating this is Simba Gegele's trademark earthy lyricism, a poetic retention of her multicultural heritage that inspires our familiarity with her characters.

To an extent, her characters are already familiar; mummies and daddies and baby sisters and cousins are established personae in the tableau of Caribbean life and by representing this cast to us All Over Again lets us relive our own childhoods through fresh eyes. As the protagonist experiences things for the first time, we simultaneously rediscover our erstwhile experiences, wherein lies the draw for more mature readers.

In the making for more than fifteen years, All Over Again delivers a delightful romp through the twists and turns of boyhood. It reaches across gender and generation gaps to connect boys and girls, old and young, in appreciation of the greatest adventure of all: growing up.