Every Body Looking

Book review by
Barbara Saunders, Common Sense Media
Every Body Looking Book Poster Image
Teen explores identities in brave novel in verse.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Glimpses of college life, what it's like to be a teen immigrant in the U.S., and how dance can inspire a student.

Positive Role Models

The main character's Nigerian immigrant family keeps cultural traditions such as food alive while making a life in the U.S. There is a favorable portrait of Howard University -- and by implication, historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) -- as places where a diverse group of Black students can find each other.

Violence

A young child is sexually abused in a relative's home. College athletes sexually harass a young woman in her job as team assistant. 

Sex

Two second-grade girls skip their class to "play doctor" in the school restroom. A teen gets uncomfortable overhearing her father having sex with his girlfriend. College students are sexually active, in both casual and serious relationships.

Language

Coarse language includes "a--hole," "s--t," and "f--k."

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

College students drink and smoke pot. There's a suggestion that the main character's mother has a substance use disorder.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Every Body Looking, a novel in verse by National Book Award finalist Candice Iloh. It won a 2021 Michael J. Printz Honor for young adult literature. When Ada, the daughter of a Nigerian immigrant family, embarks on her freshman year at Howard University in Washington, D.C., she discovers she must face her emotional baggage as she builds a new life. At college, she's free from the oversight of her strict Christian father and meddling aunt, and she can get some distance from her mother who's often verbally abusive and erratic. She has a romantic and sexual relationship with a young man, and a strong bond with a female friend that leads her to question her sexuality. Ada also neglects her studies in accounting as she pursues her passion for dance. A young child is sexually abused in a relative's home. College athletes sexually harass a young woman in her job as team assistant. Two second-grade girls skip their class to "play doctor" in the school restroom. A teen gets uncomfortable overhearing her father having sex with his girlfriend. College students are sexually active, in both casual and serious relationships. College students drink and smoke pot. There's a suggestion that the main character's mother has a substance use disorder in addition to an unspecified kind of mental illness. Strong language includes "a--hole," "s--t," and "f--k."

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What's the story?

When EVERY BODY LOOKING begins, Ada, a Black teen from a Nigerian immigrant family, is celebrating her graduation from high school. Ada is bound for Howard University. She looks forward to breaking free from the family dynamic that includes a verbally abusive mother, meddling aunt, and strict, very religious father. She's also excited to find her place in a larger community than the high school where she didn't fit in with either the majority White students or the typical Black American students. At college, Ada pursues her love for dance and explores her emerging sexuality in relationships with both men and women. To come into her own, she must face and heal from her painful past, including sexual assault at a very young age.

Is it any good?

Moving and hopeful, this book has the potential to support a reader's substantive thinking about topics like divorce, sex, education, religion, and more. In Every Body Looking, debut novelist Candice Iloh skillfully and economically uses verse to communicate the main character's changing emotional states. For example, Ada uses clipped lines like stutters when recounting a hard conversation with her mother, and a page-long unpunctuated line when describing a moment of ecstasy while dancing. Ada's life is complicated. She's coping with divorced parents, sexual abuse, adjusting to the United States as an immigrant, protecting herself from an exploitative boyfriend, and gingerly considering her attraction to other women. Regardless of these specific issues, she faces the challenge all young people do when they leave home for the first time: finding out who she is beyond the parameters of the family. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how Every Body Looking is written in verse. Why do you think the author made that choice? How did it affect your reading experience?

  • Ada is often torn between what she wants to do and what's expected of her. Have you ever made a decision that was right for you and disappointed someone else?

  •  What thoughts do you have about graduating high school and leaving home? What's excites you? What scares you?

Book details

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