Frying Plantain is a wonderful, complex, and stylistically taut series of interconnected short stories. These stories all follow Kara’s coming of age as she grows up in a northwest area of Toronto called “Little Jamaica” in the mid-2000s, just a few streets away from where I grew up too!
This is Zalika Reid-Benta‘s debut short story collection, and her style is one of a kind. Kara’s voice is so vivid, deadpan funny, and simultaneously pained. These stories follow a coming-of-age story while beautifully balancing the everyday with the big stuff; going to Nana’s house for Christmas dinner, fighting with her mom, navigating teen girl dynamics, a weird situation with neighbours, her first few boyfriends, and so much more.
The opening story recounts Kara as a young kid visiting her grandparents in Jamaica, and when asked to open the freezer, is greeted with a very bloody severed pig head. From a young age, we see the moments of disorienting cultural disconnect between her family in Jamaica and herself, as a child of diaspora. I think it’s so crucial for everyone to read and learn about these moments that many people experience, and either get the joy of being understood and seeing yourself in someone else’s story, or to grow your empathy even further.
On a generational level, Reid-Benta and I are close in age and both grew up in nearby neighbourhoods in Toronto, so reading about Kara’s adolescence absolutely thrilled me, but I think anyone would appreciate Kara’s experiences.
In the story “Snow Day,” Kara and her friends are in high school and get sent home for a snow day. She’s supposed to go straight home, but instead goes out to get fries with her friends and was simultaneously so stressed and amused by how relatable the whole story was. The teenage characters are so funny and are also given a lot of emotional depth at times, which is something you don’t always see in “adult” fiction.
One of the most fascinating things about this book that I cannot stop thinking about is the depth of the intergenerational relationships between grandmothers, mothers, and daughters. Kara has such complex relationships with her mother and grandmother, and them with each other. Reid-Benta has very artfully captured these particular dynamics with the attention, anxiety, and deep emotional pull these relationships can have.
All of that is to say, if you’re looking for a book that is somehow both light-hearted and frighteningly perceptive, funny, and by a young Black Canadian writer (from Toronto!), I can’t recommend Frying Plantain enough and I can’t wait to read what she writes next!