Within These Wicked Walls by Lauren Blackwood is a Young Adult novel that’s perfect for Halloween —a haunted house, a haunted boy, and an inescapable air of near-death desperation. It’s been selected as Reese Witherspoon’s October YA Book Club pick, and Britney Spears has also just posted on Instagram that she’s reading the book.
This Ethiopian-inspired reimagining of Jane Eyre is gritty and dark, but hopeful. The protagonist, Andi, is kicked out of her house by her mentor-slash-adopted-father. Jember, the father-figure, is cruel and neglectful, but he also taught her everything she knows about being a ‘debtera’ –the ancient work of eliminating curses and evil spirits. Andi doesn’t have any skills besides the ones Jember taught her, so that’s the work she looks for on her own. As the story unfolds, we learn that Jember was abusive towards Andi for their entire relationship. We also learn that he lost his leg while fighting an evil spirit. As a result, he walks with a limp, uses a peg leg, and deals with chronic pain every day –something I can relate to, and something Andi has patience and compassion for. It’s completely normalized in her life, which was so comforting to read.
Mostly, Within These Wicked Walls is a powerful read because a Black girl is both central to the story, and telling her story with conviction. Andi has been homeless, and lives on survival instinct. She’s seen the worst in people; she’s been beaten and scarred and starved. But she finds love, and leans into it. She decides to help, tries to understand, and forgives where she can. Readers will gain a unique, powerful perspective and compassion from seeing the world through Andi’s eyes.
There’s a striking determination about the way she keeps moving forward, which is something we are watching Britney do in real time. I love that Britney has found love with her fiancé, and is now on her way to building a new life in freedom. I strongly admire that she says she wont perform again —she’s had to perform at her father’s will for too long. So much of Britney’s fierce determination to declare her independence lives in Andi, and it’s empowering and inspiring to watch both women shine.