The Sleepless

The Sleepless by Nuzo Onoh

The Sleepless is a book like no other. Obelé is a girl from Nigeria that hears a voice that foretells the future. Sadly, she lives with a family that constantly mistreats her. Her Papa whips her until she passes out and her mother would always turn a blind eye. Obelé has many siblings such as Sister Ada and Kene. All is well until something horrendous happens to her little brother, Kene. What Obelé does not know is that her purpose in life is to free Kene’s spirit.

I would have to admit that the blurb and the cover of the book are actually scarier than the parts that are supposed to be “terrifying” such as Obelé seeing ghosts like the Ghost Girls. The part that was actually gruesome was the way in which human beings treated each other. There were parts of The Sleepless that I would have rather not read, for example, Kene’s treatment at the very beginning and all the things that Obelé had to endure until the very end. It was likewise exceptionally disturbing to read the parts where Obelé’s cousin confessed about “The Teacher Thing” to her parents and her parents ended up abusing her because they did not believe her. The book was not frightening when it came to supernatural subjects such as ghosts; it was actually more stomach-churning to read how ignorant and disgusting some people are in this world.

The Sleepless is a very religious book that constantly discusses Christian figures, death, and the afterlife. The main character would ask numerous questions to the voice that she hears all the time which she calls “Mother Voice.” One time Obelé inquired as to whether Mother Voice was the Virgin Mary and the voice responded “Who is that?” and Obelé said “the mother of Jesus, of course” with a matter-of-fact voice. The funny thing was that Mother Voice asked who Jesus and God was and when Obelé said that God was the creator of the Earth and Mother Voice responded with a laugh and said: “Oh, you mean Ana!” It was a bit refreshing on how the afterlife was based on the Yoruba religion and not Christian/Catholic. It wasn’t until a few hundred pages later that you figure out who the voice is.

The only reason why I am not giving The Sleepless five out of five stars is because of the author’s writing. The book has such a middle-grade writing yet very adult topics such as rape, death, genocide, and domestic violence. I would sometimes cringe when I read sentences that would say “bad, very bad.” I comprehend that the point of view was of a little girl but with such strong topics, it is not recommended for kids to read this. That being said, Onoh wonderfully described the River Mother’s world—crystal blue water, people with colored fish scales. It made me want to submerge to that world since the author composed it so dream-like.

The ending of the book was pleasant however at the same time, it lacked something. It felt like it ended abruptly and needed more explaining to do. The Sleepless is an unnerving yet realistic book that would introduce African horror to readers.

Rating: 4 out of 5

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