"A devastating and nuanced look at two teens’ battle for freedom, hope, independence, and love." - Publishers Weekly (starred review)
Perfect for fans of The Black Kids, Songs of Irie is a sweeping coming-of-age novel from Asha Bromfield about a budding romance struggling to survive amidst the Jamaican civil unrest of the 1970s.
It's 1976 and Jamaica is on fire. The country is on the eve of important elections and the warring political parties have made the divisions between the poor and the wealthy even wider. And Irie and Jilly come from very different backgrounds: Irie is from the heart of Kingston, where fighting in the streets is common. Jilly is from the hills, where mansions nestled within lush gardens remain safe behind gates. But the two bond through a shared love of Reggae music, spending time together at Irie's father's record store, listening to so-called rebel music that opens Jilly's mind to a sound and a way of thinking she's never heard before.
As tensions build in the streets, so do tensions between the two girls. A budding romance between them complicates things further as the push and pull between their two lives becomes impossible to bear. For Irie, fighting—with her words and her voice—is her only option. Blood is shed on the streets in front of her every day. She has no choice. But Jilly can always choose to escape.
Can their bond survive this impossible divide?
Asha Bromfield has written a compelling, emotional and heart-rending story of a friendship during wartime and what it means to fight for your words, your life, and the love of your life.
In 1976 Jamaica, a forthcoming election between an egalitarian platform and a capitalist agenda sows civil unrest. Light-skinned teen Jilly, from the upper echelon of Jamaican society, reckons with a lack of agency when her parents arrange her marriage to the capitalist party leader's son. Jilly's best friend, dark-skinned Irie—a reggae songwriter with a knockout voice living in the "not-so-nice parts" of the island—forfeits her dreams to work alongside her family at their record shop. After a friend is murdered, Irie determines to follow her desires and accepts a performance gig at a dancehall party with Jilly in attendance. But a violent encounter with egalitarian soldiers and her family's disappearance throw Irie's life into further chaos; meanwhile, Jilly wrestles with her parents' involvement in the brewing oppression. While Jilly's development can sometimes feel low stakes in comparison to Irie's clear-sighted observations, their juxtaposition prompts compelling conversations surrounding class privilege, and their slow-burn romance heightens tensions. Bromfield (Hurricane Summer) depicts a harsh reality around predation of young women in Jamaica to craft a devastating and nuanced look at two teens' battle for freedom, hope, independence, and love. An author's note provides context about civil unrest in Jamaica. Ages 13–up.
Beautifully written. Thank you for this story! It’s great representation of caribbean culture.