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Every Body Looking
Cover of Every Body Looking
Every Body Looking
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Longlisted for the National Book Award.When Ada leaves home for her freshman year at a Historically Black College, it’s the first time she’s ever been so far from her family—and...
Longlisted for the National Book Award.When Ada leaves home for her freshman year at a Historically Black College, it’s the first time she’s ever been so far from her family—and...
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  • Longlisted for the National Book Award.
    When Ada leaves home for her freshman year at a Historically Black College, it’s the first time she’s ever been so far from her family—and the first time that she’s been able to make her own choices and to seek her place in this new world. As she stumbles deeper into the world of dance and explores her sexuality, she also begins to wrestle with her past—her mother’s struggle with addiction, her Nigerian father’s attempts to make a home for her. Ultimately, Ada discovers she needs to brush off the destiny others have chosen for her and claim full ownership of her body and her future.
    “Candice Iloh’s beautifully crafted narrative about family, belonging, sexuality, and telling our deepest truths in order to be whole is at once immensely readable and ultimately healing.”—Jacqueline Woodson, New York Times Bestselling Author of Brown Girl Dreaming
    “An essential—and emotionally gripping and masterfully written and compulsively readable—addition to the coming-of-age canon.”—Nic Stone, New York Times Bestselling Author of Dear Martin
    “This is a story about the sometimes toxic and heavy expectations set onthe backs of first-generation children, the pressures woven into the familydynamic, culturally and socially. About childhood secrets with sharp teeth. And ultimately, about a liberation that taunts every young person.” —Jason Reynolds, New York Times Bestselling Author of Long Way Down



  • From the cover GRADUATION DAY

    Just look at me

    they got me out here

    wearing a dress




    hope Mama’s proud


    she sure does look like it

    looking at me and squealing

    like proud mamas do when

    their baby looks something


    like she came from them


    her squeals bounce

    from every wall of this hotel lobby

    her screams shake from

    her fragile body exploding


    like she’s shocked by her own joy


    unsteady heels click

    against the tile toward the person she can say

    was the best thing she ever did

    with her life

    Here’s the scene: I’m seventeen and graduating

    from high school

    and this weekend I learn to juggle


    my father and his new wife

    are on their way to the Home of the Chicago Doves


    decked out, like they’re about to glide down the church’s red carpet

    him in his crispiest suit, her bulging from a flowered dress


    my baby brother dressed

    as Dad’s mini identical twin


    belted in the back seat

    of my father’s golden Toyota Camry


    is giddy knowing nothing

    about what day it is


    or how his big sister

    will survive it


    after picking up her own mommy

    keeping her seated somewhere


    she can fidget

    far from his side of the family

    Mama fidgets

    in my passenger seat

    more on edge than me

    maybe cause it’s been

    like five years since we’ve seen

    each other but she is here


    scoffs under her breath

    thinking, just like her

    this hoopty is proof

    of yet another thing

    I don’t need


    shrugs away small thoughts

    not knowing

    Dad demanded

    I save and buy my first Camry



    sits and tugs

    at her lopsided wig

    pulls down the mirror

    reapplies bloodred lipstick

    smudges some on her cheeks

    with her fingers


    and I thank god knowing

    without this

    I may not

    recognize her

    We pull into my high school’s parking lot

    for the last day I will ever have to smile at these people like I ever belonged here / for the ten minutes it takes Mama and me to get to the stands along the football field, a place she has never seen / I imagine the sounds of our heels to be / like a song we are for once dancing to together / today / I’m not angry / at her slurred speech / I’m not angry / at her missing teeth / I’m not angry / at her fuss / I’m not angry / that she looks nothing like / the last time I saw her / or that / I don’t know when the next time will be / for the ten minutes it takes Mama and me to get to the stands along the football field / I’m just happy we’re both here / alive

    My name is Ada

    but not really

    it’s what my father’s side

    calls me cause I was born




    and on this day

    I’m only three months

    from leaving this place behind


    they tell me there’s

    a big world out there

    and they tell me


    there’s so much I can do

    and I know nothing

    but this city


    but my father

    but these schools

    where I’ve...

About the Author-

  • Candice Iloh is a first generation Nigerian-American writer, teaching artist, and youth educator. They are a graduate of Howard University and hold an MFA in writing from Lesley University. Their work has earned fellowships from Lambda Literary and VONA among many others. Their debut novel, Every Body Looking, was a finalist for the National Book Award and earned a Michael L. Printz honor.


  • Publisher's Weekly

    Starred review from October 19, 2020
    In this remarkable novel in verse, introspective Ada moves out of her Nigerian father’s home in Chicago to begin her freshman year at an unnamed historically Black university in Washington, D.C., where she experiences the anxieties and rewards of living independently and making her own decisions. However, traumatic memories of her past persistently haunt Ada, particularly the volatile relationship she has with her estranged mother who suffers from addiction, the gendered expectations that accompany her father’s Christianity, and a childhood sexual assault. Uninspired by her accounting classes, Ada meets Kendra, a charismatic Black dancer, who encourages her to pursue her secret lifelong love of dance. As their relationship deepens beyond friendship, and dance becomes a priority, Ada must bridge the gaps between her past, her father’s projections of her future, and how she wants to define herself and her life. In this stunning debut for young adults, Iloh crafts succinct, beautiful poems to illustrate the difficulties of navigating the tangle of family history and obligation, the power of art to heal and express, and the strength it takes to chart an authentic, independent path. Ages 12–up. Agent: Patricia Nelson, Marsal Lyon Literary Agency.

  • AudioFile Magazine Candice Iloh gives a gripping performance of this semi-autobiographical novel in verse. Listeners will meet Ada, the daughter of a Nigerian father who is unaccepting of American customs and an African-American mother who is mentally ill. Ada's life is difficult. Nonetheless, she explores her sexuality and wants to study dance rather than accounting. Iloh unhesitatingly portrays Ada in grade school and in college, where she experiences her first taste of freedom. This coming-of-age story is enhanced by an unflinching look at child sexual abuse and the pressure placed upon a first-generation immigrant to meet family expectations. Iloh excels with portraying the polar opposite parents and in contrasting bullying versus supportive classmates. Verse makes audio a must for this exceptional story. S.G.B. � AudioFile 2020, Portland, Maine
  • School Library Journal

    Starred review from December 1, 2020

    Gr 7 Up-This moving and lyrical coming-of-age story in verse is sensational and unforgettable. Burdened with heavy expectations at a young age, Ada struggles to figure out who she is underneath the mask she puts on to appease her parents and her peers. Her father is a Nigerian immigrant and her mother is an emotionally abusive African American woman dealing with mental health issues. Her father has custody and raises her in the church, setting very high standards for how she should look and behave. All Ada wants to do is dance and draw, but she is an obedient daughter and always puts her elders first. The story is told in alternating timelines between her time in public school and moving away to college. Listeners feel the anguish and inner turmoil as Ada struggles to peel back the mask that holds her in place. Flashbacks to painful moments from the past, e.g., being molested by a cousin, segue to painful moments in Ada's present. Expertly narrated by the author herself, this story is one listeners won't forget. VERDICT At times painful, but ultimately cathartic for Ada and listeners alike; impossible to put down.-Erin Cataldi, Johnson Cty. P.L., Franklin, IN

    Copyright 2020 School Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

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    Penguin Random House Audio Publishing Group
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