Title: Powder Necklace
Author: Nana Ekua Brew-Hammond
Powder Necklace tells the story of 13/14 year old Lila who is uprooted without warning by her mother from London to Ghana. Although Ghanaian by birth, Lila has never lived in Ghana. She is at the cusp of her teenage years, and although she is not an out-and-out rebellious teenager, her divorced, single and overwhelmed mother, wanting to remove her from the influences of London and ‘needing a break’ sends her to a girls’ boarding school in Ghana.
For Lila, the return to Ghana is not a coming-home tale, filled with feelings of a return to one’s people, but more the story of a young Ghanaian girl, who is very much a foreigner to her home country. She arrives in Accra and goes straight to Kumasi , then Cape Coast with her Aunt Irene. She is just as quickly enrolled into Dadaba Girls’ Secondary School and it is here that the young London girl confronts the realities of living without the comforts that she’s used to.
Her first encounter with just how different life will be in Ghana is when she realises that she has to take a bath – using a bucket of water. The author makes water, or the lack thereof, the pervading theme in the book, and the title of the book is closely linked to this theme. Water, in Ghana and at Dabada Girls Secondary is like gold. It is the great differentiator between the haves and the have nots. The girls, who come from more economically-able families have water delivered to them at school – and the powder necklace is the ring of talcum powder they put around the necks to show that they had bathed. The powder necklace however comes to be used even by the girls that do not have water – making it the equaliser amongst the girls.
Lila’s life at Dadaba is a mix of the culture shock she encounters, and her feelings of displacement. The author has kept the prose very light using humour throughout, and at some points I chuckled while reading what may have otherwise read as bleak and harrowing scenes of a tough life.
I felt the ending was a bit rushed, as Lila is moved once again by her mother after just six months, back to London and then to New York to live with her father. In New York, again she battles with fitting in – as her brief time in Ghana has changed her completely from a typical carefree London teenager, to one who is more aware yet feels disconnected to her American classmates.
I enjoyed Powder Necklace but I thought the move to New York did not add too much to the book – it would have been an equally wonderful read without that part. It took away from a coming of age story of a young girl dealing with being Ghanaian but not feeling Ghanaian, to focussing more on the dysfuntional relationship between Lila and her mother.
It is still a very good book by Nana Ekua Brew-Hammond.