I just finished reading the 394-page novel, In Every Mirror She’s Black, by Lola Akinmade Åkerström, and… WOW.
It’s been a long time since I’ve been so thoroughly engrossed in a book. I ended up finishing it in just a few days because I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I stole every moment possible (between my teaching job, running this blog, and parenting young kids) to find out what happened next!
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In Every Mirror She’s Black tells the intertwined stories of three very different Black women who all end up living in Sweden. Kemi is a Nigerian-American marketing executive who moves for a high-powered job. Brittany is a Jamaican-American flight attendant who is swept up in a wild romance that I don’t want to give too much away about but… really blew my mind. Muna is an 18-year-old refugee from Somalia.
The author, Lola Akinmade Åkerström (who I’ve been following for years as a travel blogger) is a Nigerian-American woman who has lived in both Sweden and America, and thus brings a depth of experience to the novel which few others could pull off.
What is It Like to Read?
Though this debut novel deals with profound and intense topics of every nature, In Every Mirror She’s Black is a supremely READABLE book. The ease with which I got to know and care about the characters felt as effortless as watching a great TV show.
As an English teacher for the past 18 years, I often tell my students that reading a wonderful novel is one of the best ways to feel better when times are hard. Well, with Mirror, I ended up taking my own advice. This novel got me through one of the most stressful months of my career by transporting me to another world with its plot and perspectives. Thank you, Lola!
Who is This Book Best For?
In Every Mirror She’s Black is definitely a mature book, so I would not recommend it for ages younger than 15. Because of its adult themes — including “Who is wise to marry?” and “Which career path makes sense?” — the novel is probably a best fit for college age and older: people grappling with those same challenges.
Do be aware that there are lots of very steamy romantic scenes in Mirror, so this book is not for those seeking strictly G-rated reading. There are also several mentions of violence: physical and emotional harm, as well as deep-dives into weighty issues such as racism, self-harm, abuse, and sexism.
That said, please know that I am usually very sensitive to emotions and have difficulty reading very sad books, yet I found Mirror to be a pleasure to read — not a sad chore at all. Lola has done a brilliant job tackling big topics with heart and accessibility.
A PERFECT Book Club Choice
I help run a local book club that meets monthly, and I’m thrilled that I chose Mirror as this month’s book because it is IDEAL to discuss with a group. In one breath, you can unpack a significant social issue — and also squeal about a certain scandalous romance. This novel has everything!
If you know already you’re curious to try In Every Mirror She’s Black and are intrigued, feel free to click this link to see pricing and more reviews. Now it’s time to dive into specifics about the book. If you haven’t read it yet, please come back here later because spoilers are coming next.
Characters of In Every Mirror She’s Black
I loved the character of Kemi: Smart, powerful, ambitious — and on a passionate quest to date well. She is extremely relatable in her three-dimensional “flaws” (I put that word in quotation marks, because many of her “weaknesses” are also strengths, when seen in a certain way.) I also loved all of her outfits, each of which was sumptuously described.
Speaking of “faults” being superpowers, I can’t stop thinking about the character of Jonny. As an educator, I work with many students on the Autism spectrum, and I’ve never seen someone with this characteristic depicted in a novel so fully — nor have I before seen such an accurate portrayal of the ways that ignoring, hiding, or denying a person’s special needs causes harm.
Brittany’s story was one that drew me in, big-time. So many of us can relate to the pull of privilege and the alluring unknown. Coming with her on the journey as she entered the world of yachts, waterfront villas, and personal assistants was positively exhilarating. Her ultimate dilemma of what to do once essentially trapped inside Jonny’s riches was downright haunting.
Malcolm, Jose, and Tobias were the best! Lovely men and friends, and such needed warmth, connection, and support amid the pain and isolation. They also added much to the book’s inquiry of what makes a “suitable match.” Gunhild also fits this category of warmth-bringers.
Muna’s story was powerfully told. I know Lola from the travel blogging and photography world, and so I was familiar with the gorgeous portraits she did of refugees in Sweden, and know that the author drew from her work there to create Muna’s character.
Setting and the Novel
I was particularly struck by the way in which the surroundings of each scene enhanced the In Every Mirror She’s Black. Here are a few examples.
Food plays a fabulous role in the book — almost becoming a star character, itself. Nearly every page has a luscious description of a specific meal, from late-night kebabs to fancy salmon dishes. Characters are often eating as they speak, and descriptions of how and what they munch on play perfectly with the personalities. The book sure made me hungry!
Given Lola’s experience as a travel writer and photographer, it’s no surprise that architecture and cityscapes are meticulously characterized in the novel. I especially loved reveling in the decor of Jonny’s many homes.
Outfit choices and fashion become pivotal in Mirror, as they are so linked in the story to identity, culture, and body image. I was particularly moved by the description of how a bold dress that made Kemi feel powerful was seen as jarring and over-the-top to her Swedish colleagues.
Culture is central in the novel, and I learned so much about Swedish customs and habits while reading it: from fika, to always giving the collective group credit over any individual. I was also struck by the characterizations of the insularity and racism in Swedish society.
I had no idea before reading this book about the differences it portrayed between oppression in Sweden versus America, and they were both upsetting and eye-opening. I imagine this novel will spark a great deal of conversation — and perhaps also action — in Sweden as well as America.
Themes of the Book
The element that most stood out to me about Mirror was the tension between what one’s body and soul want, versus what is logical or needed in one’s life. This tension is played out in Kemi’s decisions about her job and marriage options, in Brittany weighing whether to marry Jonny, and in Muna’s every move for survival. Each women has different options available to her in this quest due to her status, but each grapples deeply with the quandaries it poses. Heaven knows many of us can relate!
In Every Mirror She’s Black, in Closing
I thank Lola from the bottom of my heart for writing this important and engrossing novel. In Every Mirror She’s Black will go on my list of books that have personally helped me through difficult times, while simultaneously offering eye-opening new perspectives and ideas. I know I’ll continue to think about it for years to come.
If you haven’t read In Every Mirror She’s Black and are intrigued, feel free to use this link to see pricing and more reviews. If you have read In Every Mirror She’s Black already, what was your take? Do share!
2023 Update: Great news… The sequel is out for In Every Mirror She’s Black: It’s called Everything is Not Enough!
Try These Books and Podcasts, Too
Enjoyed In Every Mirror She’s Black? Here are some other books and podcasts I recommend that also deal with race and class via engaging stories.
- Dreamland Burning by Jennifer Latham is a Young Adult novel about the 1921 Tulsa Massacre. Like Mirror, this book is told from different perspectives that ultimately intertwine. Also like Mirror, Dreamland teaches about a weighty and important topic in a manner which is both engaging and enjoyable.
- Look Both Ways by famed YA author, Jason Reynolds, is a middle-grades book which weaves together stories from middle schoolers, all centering around their walk and bus ride home. It has so many layers to unpack that I wrote an analysis of several thousand words about it! (Click that link to see.)
- A Long Walk to Water is a middle grades book based on the true story of Salva Dut, one of the “Lost Boys of Sudan” who ultimately went back to his home country to make a phenomenal contribution (which I will not spoil since it’s a surprise in the book). This is a very uplifting novel, with tie-ins to real causes you can support.
- “Nice White Parents” is a New York Times podcast following racial segregation and integration at a specific NYC school. If you click that link, you’ll see my IN-DEPTH analysis of the podcast, including extensive quotations with annotations, and links to the transcript — ideal for those, like me, who prefer reading to listening.
I hope these recommendations bring happiness and learning!
The author, Lillie Marshall, is a 6-foot-tall National Board Certified Teacher of English from Boston who has been a public school educator since 2003. She launched TeachingTraveling.com in 2010 to share expert global education resources, and over 1.6 million readers have visited over the past decade. Lillie also runs AroundTheWorld L.com Travel and Life Blog, and DrawingsOf.com for educational art. Do stay in touch via subscribing to her monthly newsletter, and following @WorldLillie on social media!