Akosua and Osman is the story of two young adults navigating social, academic and family life in high school in Ghana. The story is told through Akosua in every other chapter and Osman through the alternating chapters. Akosua begins and ends the book, which is key because strong female voices are central to the stories of both Osman and Akosua. Osman is born into a poor Muslim family and later loses both of his parents. He is separated from his sister, who must move to the distant north with an uncle she has never met, while he is adopted by a female, middle-class retired school principal and stays in the city. Osman works as an apprentice mechanic until he can get into school. While in school he supplements his subpar education by studying outside of class and reading often. Akosua is born into a highly educated, middle class family and attends a prestigious boarding school for girls. She is mentored by a feminist teacher who nurtures her love of literary arts. Akosua and Osman’s lives intersect during a school field trip to Cape Coast Castle. In a slave dungeon, they meet one another in an intense, awkward moment. Years later their paths cross again when they are finalists in a national debate competition. The debate topic is “the problem of poverty in Ghana is insoluble.” Akosua argues for and Osman argues against.
I really enjoyed reading this book. It was a fast read and full of interesting secondary characters like Akosua’s school mates, Osman’s work mates at the mechanic shop, and their parents. Their stories were realistic and portrayed one of the best things about Ghana- the secondary school system, which was promoted by Kwame Nkrumah, Ghana’s first president and prominent Pan-Africanist. Entrance to schools is based on merit and young people often travel to schools outside their region. They end up living with classmates from all over the country with a variety of ethnic and linguistic backgrounds. Some say this is one of the reasons ethnic groups in Ghana do not have fierce hatred toward one another and have maintained a healthy democracy. They see themselves as sisters and brothers who ate, bathed, played and studied together during those school years. We get to know the characters through their different class, religious and ethnic backgrounds. We watch them move in and out of different social circles- Osman visits a church for the first time, Akosua visits a friend in the hospital.
Another interesting feature of the story is how Akosua and Osman receive sex education. Teen readers should reflect on their own experiences receiving sex ed and think about the pros and cons of different approaches.
I loved the strong female characters and the focus on literary arts as an academic discipline for young Africans. I thought the ending was too abrupt and it felt out of place. The Glossary and Map at the end of the book were very helpful. Highly Recommended.
Reviewed by Anastasia Shown, MSW, University of Pennsylvania School of Social Policy and Practice
Published in Africa Access Review (June 21, 2017)
Copyright 2017 Africa Access