One For Sorrow, Two For Joy, is a debut novel by British Ghanaian author Marie-Claire Amuah. The novel follows ten-year-old Stella through to her adulthood. Stella tries very hard to be good and to go unnoticed. She does her best not to answer back because her Ghanaian father is usually angry. All she can do is touch wood or search for magpies - two compulsive rituals she has created to keep her anxiety at bay. But as Stella grows up and moves away from her home and family, her past continues to haunt her. It will take all Stella’s courage as well as some care and love from her group of girlfriends to heal her wounds so that she can finally break free.
One For Sorrow, Two For Joy is an incredible novel that offers a stunning and heartfelt exploration of anxiety, abuse, and intergenerational trauma. Amuah’s depictions of anxiety felt particularly well done - she goes beyond the notion of anxiety being about constant worrying and instead shows the obsessive, compulsive side of the mental illness. Through childhood to adulthood, for example, Stella obsessively counts magpies, with two signifying joy and one lonesome magpie signifying sorrow. On a similar note, Amuah also does an amazing job of depicting the effects of childhood trauma and the ways it manifests in our adult lives. It was particularly powerful to see Stella’s interactions with her boyfriend, who would often treat her in an abusive manner. Stella, however, would fail to realise this and instead justify his behaviour. This was an excellent example of intergenerational trauma and the ways it can affect our future relationships and our inner voices that tell us what is acceptable behaviour and what is not.
Stella is a unique heroine who you cannot help but root for from page one. From start to finish, her character is one that feels extremely realistic. This is partly because of the way in which Stella’s voice evolves with her as her character grows. For example, the narrative style is initially rather simplistic here, as Stella is only 10-years-old. As she ages, the narrative matures, too, gradually becoming more complex. This unique writing style felt incredibly authentic and powerful. Despite the terrible things that happen to Stella, Amuah does not shower her character with sympathy. In other words, Amuah does not neglect to show us Stella’s own flaws. For example, Stella’s upbringing leads her to develop quite the temper in her teens that she often deploys upon her undeserving brother and mother. This holistic portrayal of Stella made her character almost leap off the page.
One For Sorrow, Two For Joy is a tear-jerker of a debut that explores the complexities of family and of life more generally, with emotional depth and humanity.