Pride and Joy by Louisa Onomé

Pride and Joy author, coutesy Photograph by Linda Arki

c.2024, Atria Books 
336 pages

By Terri Schlichenmeyer
The Truth Contributor

You never have just one.

That’s how it goes when something bad happens: another undesirable event usually follows it, then another, layer by layer until you think you can’t handle it anymore. You offer up a prayer, please stop, and eventually, you find your way. You catch a breath. As in the new book Pride and Joy by Louisa Onomé, you live to rise again.

Mama Mary Okafor said she didn’t want a fuss on her birthday. It was Good Friday, God’s day, and she wasn’t competing with Him. Then her daughter, Joy, convinced her that people would also be going to church to celebrate her day, too, and that changed everything.

Mama wanted a party and, good daughter that she was, Joy rented a six-bedroom Toronto mansion for it. She hired caterers, a DJ, florists, there’d be a tent by a swimming pool and cousins and Aunties and Uncles were coming.

The thought that one little thing might go wrong made Joy feel sick.

She was a therapist, for heaven’s sake. She should know how to deal with anxiety brought on by being the imperfect daughter of a Nigerian mother. She should know how to deal with people who’d be asking where her husband – her ex-husbandwas.

It would be fine, until it wasn’t: Mama went to lie down for a nap and she never woke up. Hours before the party, with caterers on their way and family arriving late, Joy’s mother was dead and her brother hadn’t yet arrived. Then Joy’s Auntie Nancy announced that she’d seen a brown cow on the way to be with Mama at the hospital, and a cow portended a miracle: by midnight the next night, Mary Okafor would wake up and resume her life.

As news spread among Toronto’s Nigerian community and the house filled with strangers and family that Joy didn’t want to deal with, she wished her twin sister was still alive. Heaven help her, she wanted her ex-husband to come. She dreaded seeing her brother.

Most of all, Joy simply wanted her Mama…

First things first: are you going to cry?

Maybe, but Pride and Joy isn’t really a tear-jerker. Much of what you’ll read here is hilariously chaotic, as author Louisa Onomé pulls a great big family together in a large house that somehow gets smaller by the page. This constriction leaves readers with a tight story, despite many layers of irritation, total disorder, culture clashes, intergenerational exasperation, and love – heavy on that latter. Even better, we appreciate the slammed doors, eye-rolling, and kissed teeth because Onomé makes the family in this novel complicated but entirely relatable.

You don’t have to have a sprawling family to understand that, but you might wish you did after you enjoy this book. Bring tissues, to be sure, because you might need them. Bring a dictionary, too, because Igbo and Italian both feature in here (but only a little). Overall, if you’re looking for a sweet, funny book to read, Pride and Joy is the one.