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Tuesday, 6 January 2009

In Review: Aya of Yop City

• Written by Marguerite Abouet • Art by Clement Oubrerie
• UK Publisher: Jonathan Cape

• Released: 15 January 2009

For the residents of Yopougon, everyday life is good. It is the early 1970s, a golden time - work is plentiful, hospitals are clean and well equipped, and school is obligatory. The Ivory Coast is as an island of relative wealth and stability in West Africa. For the teenagers of the town, though, worries are plentiful, and life in Yop City is far from simple. Aya tells the story of its 19-year-old heroine, the clear-sighted and bookish Aya, and her carefree and fun-loving friends Adjoua and Bintou...

When the first volume of Aya debuted in 2007 it was to plenty of well-deserved critical acclaim and I named it as one of my favourite graphic novels of the year. It rightfully gained a Quill Award nomination, and praise for its accessibility and for the rare portrait of a warm and vibrant Africa it presented.

Aya of Yop City is the continuation of this beautifully-told story by Marguerite Abouet and Clement Oubrerie, with life in 1970s Yop City as dramatic as ever. The original cast of characters is back in full force, with a case of questionable paternity fanning the flames of activity in the community. The new mother, Adjoua, has her friends to help with the baby, perhaps employing Aya a bit too frequently, while a new romance leaves Bintou with little time for her friends, let alone their responsibilities.

The young women aren't the only residents of Yopougon involved in the excitement, however; Aya's father is caught in the midst of his own trysts and his employer's declining Solibra beer sales -- a storyline that brings this volume to a dramatic conclusion -- and Adjoua's brother finds his share of the city's nightlife.

From the miscreant antics of deceitful men such as Gregoire, persuading several women he is a rich man back from Paris while in reality he is as poor as them, to the innocence of Aya, unaware of her father's indiscretions, to cameo scenes as the girls deal with both wanted and unwanted male attention, Aya of Yop City maintains and indeed, surpasses the twists and turns of the original volume.

Oubrerie's artwork synchronizes perfectly to Abouet's funny and lighthearted writing, delivering a heart-warming, humour yet also angst-filled tale filled with genuine emotion and superb storytelling and even stronger characterisation than the first book in the series. It's great to see this second volume available in the UK -- I just hope we don't have to wait too long for the third, Aya and Friends, due for release in the US in June from Drawn & Quarterly, to find out what happens to Aya and her family.

Buy Aya of Yop City from amazon.co.uk

I also recommend Marguerite Abouet and Clement Oubrerie's Aya, the first volume of this story: a simply wonderful, beautifully illustrated tale of life in an African city with none of the Western stereotyping of the continent in sight. In Aya, lives are lived, hearts broken, romances kindled. There is no famine, no war, simply life as you'd expect on the streets of London or New York with all the complications that entails -- except the backdrop is the Ivory Coast, brought to vivid life by Clement Oubrerie's gorgeous art.

Buy Aya from amazon.co.uk

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