Book Review: All the Fighting Parts by Hannah V. Sawyerr
Content note: This book is about a sexual assault.
In the vein of Grown and The Poet X, Hannah V. Sawyerr’s All the Fighting Parts is a searing and defiant young adult novel in verse about reclaiming agency after a sexual assault within the church community.
Sixteen-year-old Amina Conteh has always believed in using her voice as her weapon—even when it gets her into trouble. After cursing at a classmate, her father forces her to volunteer at their church with Pastor Johnson.
But Pastor Johnson isn’t the holy man everyone thinks he is.
The same voice Amina uses to fight falls quiet the night she is sexually assaulted by Pastor Johnson. After that, her life starts to unravel: her father is frustrated that her grades are slipping, and her best friend and boyfriend don’t understand why the once loud and proud girl is now quiet and distant. In a world that claims to support survivors, Amina wonders who will support her when her attacker is everyone’s favorite community leader.
When Pastor Johnson is arrested for a different crime, the community is shaken and divided; some call him a monster and others defend him. But Amina is secretly relieved. She no longer has to speak because Pastor Johnson can’t hurt her anymore—or so she believes.
To regain her voice and sense of self, Amina must find the power to confront her abuser—in the courtroom and her heart—and learn to use all the fighting parts within her.
Wow. This book.
Amina is such a complex character and her story is so profoundly moving. I’ll just go ahead and say it: another top read of the year for me. What is going on?! Why such a string of amazing reads in row?! I don’t know. But I’m happy to be experiencing it.
Amina is not one to keep her thoughts to herself, whether that’s lashing out at her dumbass classmate Bowl Cut, or snapping at her father, or devastating her best friend with a cutting remark. She’s a fighter, a trait she inherited from her mother, who died when Amina was quite young. But in the wake of her sexual assault, an assault perpetrated by her church’s pastor, she finds she struggles to share her voice. She turns to journal entries (thanks to her therapist) and we hear her story through police report transcripts. These are places she reluctantly addresses what has happened to her, but when it comes to talking to people in her life about it, it’s hard. Of course it is. She and her father have never been close. Her best friend is in a new relationship leaving Amina to feel like a third wheel. Her boyfriend is the pastor’s nephew. And when she does share, she finds confidents in surprisingly people, like a teacher who never seemed to like her or a classmate who always seemed to think she was so much better than Amina.
Amina learns important lessons, lessons readers will take away too. Amina is strong even when she’s silent. And silence is complicated for her, because she feels like so often this is only when people approve of girls and women, when they’re silent. This is when you can only feel protected, if you’re keeping your mouth shut, keeping your “composure.” And it’s okay if you want to be silent, to feel protected by it, to not come forward, or to decide to step back (as is the case of another girl assaulted by the pastor). But it’s okay to use your voice, to share your experience, to let others surround you with support, to allow people the opportunity to step up and be there, to show you that you are not alone, and, most importantly, that the guilt or shame is not yours to carry. None of this was Amina’s fault. Amina learns to let people help hold her up, to remind her that she will be able to hold herself up again. Of course there are those that blame her, that disbelieve her, that make it clear that at times the world will be quick to judge and hesitant to support. Amina goes through ALL the feelings and ups and downs as she moves forward with her case against the pastor. She often feels alone, but the author makes it clear that she is not, not ever.
And while the writing is strong and the storytelling moving and powerful, it is just Amina, simply Amina herself, that makes this book a standout. No one should go through what Amina did, but, of course, we all know those who have. And I’d want them, I’d want teen readers, to take away the lessons Amina learns: You are brave, you are supported, you are loved, you are believed, and any shame is not yours to carry.
A fantastic read with an unforgettable main character.
Review copy (ARC) courtesy of the publisher
Publisher: Amulet Books
Publication date: 09/19/2023
Age Range: 14 – 18 Years
Filed under: Book Reviews
About Amanda MacGregor
Amanda MacGregor works in an elementary library, loves dogs, and can be found on Twitter @CiteSomething.
SLJ Blog Network