Book name: Bad Love
Author: Maame Blue
Publisher: Jacaranda Books, June 2020
Reviewed by Tricia Wombell
Bold from the beginning, Maame Blue introduces her romance’s protagonist with five simple but illuminating words: ‘I am not a romantic.’ With this auspicious opening, her debut novel confidently takes us into the life and loves of Ekuah Danquah, a Londoner with a Ghanaian background. As the start indicates, this is not your typical happy days romance, or even redemptive break-up romance. Rather, it is a tender and excruciating exploration of the many forms love and affection can take – from first love, to parental love, to love that matures within partnership and respect.
What is singularly powerful about Bad Love, and commendable for this reason alone, is that the winners and losers in love are all Black. It’s so unusual to have a Black woman lead in a romance story, that it is sadly still remarkable. As this tide begins to shift, Maame Blue joins a small coterie of Black woman writers, such as Sareeta Domingo and Frances Mensah Williams, who successfully specialise in creating romantic, believable Black heroines, with all kinds of choices to make, for their readers.
While this book is about love and romance, it also centres growing up and making a life for yourself on your own terms. Across seven years we follow Ekuah as she leaves home to attend university, takes on community work in her spare time, begins her career, and eventually turns a side-hustle producing poetry/spoken word shows into a successful international career. Not only are we treated to scenes of London that only a local could render so authentically, but we also get beautiful vignettes of Paris, Accra and Venice vividly painted by an author intimately familiar with the terrain.
While at one level it is a coming of age tale, the heart of the book can be found in the relationships – not just with the men she lets into her life, but with that first and most intimate relationship we begin with our parents. Maame Blue’s wonderful writing brings out Ekuah’s parents, as their life with each other and with Ekuah evolves. The plot line brings to mind Bernardine Evaristo’s Mr Loverman (2013), but as the perspective is that of Ekuah, the focus is quite distinct.
Though Bad Love centres romantic trauma and shedding self-obsession, it was ultimately a fun and easy read – truly a testament to Maame Blue’s powers of relatability and writing prowess. Not a typical romantic myself, I found myself drawn to the sections about the growth of the spoken word business, as they lovingly described a world taken from us by lockdown. As we wait to emerge from our chrysalis, it is nourishing to take in visions of creative and romantic growth such as Maame Blue writes, and illustrator Dapo Adeola visually encapsulates in his stunning cover. Bad Love is part of the independent publisher, Jacaranda’s brilliant campaign, #Twentyin2020, to publish twenty new books by Black authors across all genres this year. The initiative is being run in collaboration with writers’ development agency Words of Colour. Such a superb idea to celebrate the talent and variety of writing that is coming through with this platform.