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Every Body Looking

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A Finalist for the National Book AwardWhen Ada leaves home for her freshman year at a Historicall... Read More

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A Finalist 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 DownA Finalist for the National Book Award
A Michael L. Printz Award Honoree
One of Reader's Digest's 50 Best YA Novels of All Time

"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

"I can't remember the last time I read a story that stood this effortlessly at the axis of so many slivers of young American life. To show complexity without box-checking, and empathy without melodrama, to me, makes this a story with legs, and Iloh a writer to watch." —Jason Reynolds, New York Times bestselling author of Long Way Down

“This blazing coming-of-age comet will have everybody looking up.”—New York Times

"Lyrical, insightful, and searing."—Teen Vogue

“[Iloh] makes a stunning debut with this brilliant coming-of-age tale.”—Buffalo News

"[A portrait] of a young woman struggling with issues both universal — wanting to be liked, to feel seen, to make a friend — and specific to the experiences of a Black woman and child of immigrants.... [T]riumphant."—Vox

★ "
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."—Publishers Weekly, starred review

★ "This book is a testament to the beauty of Black girls, their circumstances, bodies, and cultures."—Booklist, starred review

★ "Iloh uses verse beautifully…[A] captivating, sometimes heartbreaking, yet ultimately hopeful story."—Kirkus, starred review

"Every Body Looking is a powerful acknowledgement of what we gain when we grant ourselves permission to embrace who we are fully and completely."—BookPage

"A hopeful, beautifully written, deeply affecting story of what we endure and overcome in the journey to become ourselves."—Teen Librarian Toolbox

“Readers will be left wishing they could accompany Ada as she pursues her passion and finds her way to a genuine relationship, while left hopeful and inspired by her beautifully-told story.”—SLJ

A Feminist Book Project Top Ten TitleCandice Iloh is a first-generation Nigerian American writer whose books center home. They are from the Midwest by way of Washington, DC, and Brooklyn, New York. They are a proud alumna of the Rhode Island Writers Colony, and their work has earned fellowships from Lambda Literary, VONA, and Kimbilio Fiction and a residency with Hi-ARTS, where they debuted their first one-person show in 2018. Candice became a 2020 National Book Award Finalist and, in 2021, a Printz Award Honoree for their debut novel, Every Body Looking. Salt the Water is their third novel.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 always


been one of few specks

of dingy brown

in a sea of perfect white


but I know the bible

and I know how to do


the right things


so how hard could college

really be

How hard could it be to

   1. Find a dress that both Mama and Dad would like.
   2. Make sure the dress was loose enough to hide all my heavy.
   3. Put on heels I could stand for more than three hours.
   4. Pick Mama up in my own car.
   5. Get Mama to my soon-to-be old school.
   6. Sit Mama somewhere I could see her.
   7. Run back and forth between Mama and Dad.
   8. Smile for every camera.
   9. Smile with Mama.
   10. Smile when Mama insists that she be the first, after it’s over, to have dinner with me.

Dad smiles for his final picture with me

loosening the awkward grip

tightly held on the outside

of my right arm


his sharp signature cologne

left to linger across

my shoulders


a scent just as strong

as the bass

in the shifting tone of his voice


proud of you, Kid

you did good

he says


as if I’d done

my entire high school bid

just now, all in one day


thanks, Dad

I smile back, bashful

warm under the way


he looks at me

on the days

I do right


standing back I look

at the softness peeking through

thick folds of my father’s face


watch yet another attempt

to pull his belted suit pants

over the bottom of his round belly


now at the end of a long day

under the football field sun with beads of sweat

faithfully dabbed across his widow’s peak


by an old white cloth always tucked

in his back pocket basking in the praise

of his job well done

After the pictures are done

caught back and forth

on opposite sides

of the crowded field


buzzing with families proud

of children

they don’t really know


we pull into the driveway

as the sky surrounding Dad’s house

is deepening toward black from gray


Mama glances toward

his front door and back

toward the road behind us




I think to place a hand

on her trembling shoulder

but settle for telling her it’s okay, Mom


tell her we’ll be a minute

tell her I just need to change

tell her they’re not home yet


but Dad’s house is my house too

Mama looks back at me

wanting too much


to see where I live

but too proud to admit

she needs my permission


stares into the side of my face

hungry for any scrap

I might drop for her to catch


reaches for my hand

as I lift it just in time

from the gear stick for her to miss


shifting my foot

from the brake pedal

checking my phone for the time


I tell Mama

we’ve got thirty minutes

before my father and that woman


come home

Some kids grew up coming home

to the smell of mustard greens

special recipe mac and cheese

cornbread from scratch and cookies

baking in the oven


to the sound of their mama

screamin at somebody on the tv

getting on her nerves for the tenth time

while she watches the same shows


announcing to the whole house

that this will be

the last time I trip

over a child’s raggedy school shoes


or telling them you better

clean up that funky alleyway

that you like to call

your bedroom


some kids grew up

being asked about

why their grades ain’t

better than that and fussin

over homework they need to do


but my mama

was different

my mama just

wasn’t reallythe type


To keep tabs on me like that

wasn’t really my mama’s style I learned years ago

when she started asking me my age


I’d look back at her and wonder

how she could forget when she had me


how she could push out a whole person

and just forget

Mama and I both forget

about time the minute I turn the key

unlocking the front door to Dad’s house


suddenly it’s like we’re surrounded

by a museum of forbidden family


knowing she can look but not touch

Mama is everywhere her feet


take her wanting to see what we’ve

been up to while she’s away


the walls covered with me at every age

that she struggles to remember


Mama getting lost in all the picture frames

my fancy life of birthday parties and school plays


my first dance recital on a park stage

dressed in colorful West African cloth like the other girls


a buzz from my phone reminds me

to get her upstairs so I can change my clothes

From upstairs I can hear Dad’s car door slam

and I know they are home already

Mama’s fidgets come back again

and I’m angry

when just seconds ago

her soft hands were gliding

across my pictures

my clothes

my animals

stuffed with love

and a pillow with her picture

stuck inside its plastic cover frame


freshly painted red fingernails

touching just about everything

happy to be in the room

where her child sleeps

happy to be inside

and here she is

now filled with fear

filled with how they will see her

a stranger squatting

in her own daughter’s


I run from my room

closing the door behind me /

down the stairs / I run / so I can

smile and twirl / real sweet once more /

for Dad / and his new wife

to dance / in their still-fresh

pride of the new high school graduate


where is she, Dad asks


I tell him

she is upstairs

tell him

we’ll only be a few minutes

tell him

this is my house too


his new wife looks and sucks her teeth

upstairs, one of the first, down here the last

my baby brother off playing and oblivious

and suddenly I know somewhere

it’s written, somewhere it says

my mama shouldn’t be here

Mama shouldn’t be here

so we’re gone quick and quiet five minutes later to eat anywhere but here and Mama is cussin but I smile and turn on the radio, blast the ac cause it’s just her and me


I ask her where she wants to go and she tells meanywhere girl I’m with my baby

I knew we shouldn’t have gone in there! chile, did you see how she was lookin


I pretend it’s all nothing and drive us to my favorite restaurant thumping my fingers

on my lap to the beat, leave Mama to keep talking and talking to the tune of herself

She already answered this herself

when I come back to the motel for her the next day

a question she asks in the car on the way

to my graduation party and it sounds like some

kind of silly joke where she’s playing or must have

forgotten the party where we are headed is for me


I don’t really feel

like bein bothered

with all them people

all them people I don’t know

and they just gon be

lookin at me and I’m just gon be

sittin by myself and I just ain’t

in the mood to be bothered, you know


I ask her what she wants to do instead

but tell her I’m going to my party, after all

it was thrown for me, it’s either she comes

or she gets on the next train back, cause

today is supposed to be about me


oh I don’t know but

I don’t feel like bein bothered

I really ain’t tryna go to no party

she says

Away from the party on this drive to the train station

it’s only silent for a few minutes

before I’m called every name


I’m sure I’m not supposed to be

called by my mama but I know


this is how she says she’s angry

this is how she says this is her day too


this is how she says she’s sorry

in her own way, as a mother


for breaking all the rules

The first thing I do after everyone is gone

is shut the door

close the blinds


sometimes being dramatic

is my thing but


this really was

the first time I’ve seen


this much cash



the room I’d slept in

for the past seven years


painted a Pepto-Bismol pink

was now marked


an old green

at the center


I’d opened each

graduation card alone


skipped Hallmark notes

telling me Good Job! and Great Things Ahead!


skipped every Congrats on your big day!

in search of what mattered most


told Dad I didn’t feel like

being mushy


in front of all

those people


but truth is

I just wanted


to count my money

in peace

Product Details

Title: Every Body Looking
Author: Candice Iloh
SKU: BK0455687
EAN: 9780525556220
Language: English

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