Much like the Fresh Prince of Bel Air, Asali Solomon was born and raised in West Philadelphia. Though she grew up there, she decided to pursue her studies elsewhere and attended college in New York and later in California and Iowa. How appropriate then that her first novel is set there. Though Solomon has released some short fiction, even a collection of stories, Disgruntled is her first novel which is set in the area and time that she was brought up.
Solomon’s Disgruntled begins with main character Kenya Curtis, kindergarten aged. Going to a public school in West Philadelphia, she sticks out like a sore thumb with her talk of Kwanzaa, The Seven Days and the way she calls her father Baba, instead of Dad. This doesn’t bother Kenya, who being raised by her idealistic parents, is completely aware that she is different. She is forbidden to eat pork or recite the Pledge of Allegiance, but that shouldn’t make her that much different from her peers. She constantly remembers her Baba talking about “the shame of being alive”, or in other words her father’s own disgruntledness with his own life. Solomon’s debut novel follows Kenya as she grows from a first grader at a public school and follows her to different parts of Philly, to a private school, all the way through college. Along the way Kenya will encounter her own version of “the shame of being alive”, or rather her inability to find her footing in life.
One of the best things about Disgruntled is that since it is a coming of age story, Solomon did a fantastic job with including the parts of Kenya’s story that she thought would matter the most. It’s not a particularly long novel, so keeping certain parts of the story short really made a world of difference. Being able to swiftly move through Kenya’s life, not having to touch on every single year from kindergarten to college made the novel breathable and light. The themes were also something that aren’t often seen anymore. Disgruntled is a story about a girl growing up in West Philly, but also it’s a story about the times and culture of that period. Racial tensions were high at the time and this story portrays that well. Incorporating The Seven Days, a fictional group from Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon was also a very well placed detail.
Not one person that has read anything written by Asali Solomon will deny that she isn’t a fantastic writer. Moving from her short fiction into a full fledged novel, Disgruntled looks to be the beginning of something of a fantastic writing career for her. Mixing together a bunch of different themes, ideas and concepts, Solomon’s first novel is an absolute joy to experience; one that is both eye opening and riveting for any reader.
Rating: 4 out of 5 – Disgruntled is a fantastic debut novel for Asali Solomon. What starts out as a simple story about a girl from West Philadelphia, quickly blooms into a story that is larger than her own life and the life of the reader.
You can purchase Disgruntled here.