"I want everyone to tell people the story of my beautiful big sister, and why she died. I want everyone to understand why this has to stop". 
These are the ending lines of What was never saida YA novel by Emma Craigie (Shortbooks 2015). Reading them won't compromise the read of the novel which is a honest account on how a 15 years girl, Zahra, starts a journey challenging traditional ancient beliefs and identity.
What was never said tells the story of 15 year's old Zahra, a Somali immigrant who now lives with her little sister Samsam and her parents in Bristol- UK and struggles to fit in her new life in a foreign country.  Her identity is challenged the day three Somali women show up at her home. She suddenly recognize one of the women being the “cutter”, the woman who performs Female Genital Mutilation:"her black clothes, her narrow face and the yellow whites of her eyes . This raises her protective instinct to find a way to leave home with her small sister Samsam to escape that crucial experience who killed their elder sister Rahma.
Emma Craigie, goes back and forth in Zahra 's life from /to Somalia and UK trying to depict her emotional landscape which in the end results to be so realistic and most of all, true. 
Zahra has a mature strong sense of life, she doesn't question much about the tradition nor she criticizes her mother, she just knows that FGM is wrong since her sister passed away from its consequences. She recognizes the right thing to do. Even Zahra's mother seems vulnerable finding herself on a crossroad between following the tradition of initiating girls and the fear of losing another daughter. Interesting enough the figure of  Zahra's father who seems to reject FGM telling his wife: "you musn't hurt these girls".
Metaphorically Rahma has saved Zahra's and Samsam's lives. By realeasing and sharing the untold story of her big sister, Zahra is now free from the tradition because she managed to challenge the taboo with courage and self determination.
What was never said  is the core of a  conversation mother and daughter never had before about FGM. Zahra became aware that it was time to break the silence and talk about it openly. 

What was never said is an important YA novel that encourages to talk about FGM within the family, within the community, within a space that is not judgmental but open to confront and raise a public dialogue. 
I hope many teachers will pick up the book and share it with their students. 


Unfortunately we don't see many YA books talking about FGM, there's a huge gap which has to be filled considering that FGM has a global impact. 140 million of women have undergone FGM, 86 millions of girls are at risk in the next 15 years. It's impossible to deny the impact of this practice in our societies, we have to become familiar with the idea that is not someone else's problem, but our own problem since it is recognized as a crime and abuse against children and women. 
FGM is our next door's problem, we all live in multicultural and heterogeneous societies and it is very common to have friends, students, schoolmates, neighbors, colleagues who come from FGM practicing countries who have already undergone FGM or might be at risk to be cut.  
The main problem is the "secrecy" in which FGM is hidden. Is not part of a global public dialogue. Considered as a taboo in most of the practicing societies, FGM has to be released from its shell,  discussed and shared. 

Emma Craigie
Here an extract of my interview with Emma Craigie. For full interview stay tuned.

VALENTINA MMAKA - What was never said is a YA novel, I guess one of the first if not the first, addressed to YA readers about this topic in UK. Why according to you there so little on book shelves talking about issues like FGM?
EMMA CRAIGIE - Commercially FGM is a very difficult subject for publishers.  Many readers instinctively recoil from the subject, which is not to say that they do not care, but they don’t want to focus on it…  The crime writer Ruth Rendell’s crime novel about FGM was the worst selling of all her books.   I have a very supportive publisher – they know it will be hard work to sell What Was Never Said.

VALENTINA MMAKA - I’m inviting authors to address a message to publishers to be more sensitive and ready to publish diversity in books for children and YA,what’s the importance of having books which provide mirror and windows, to quote feminist author Zetta Elliott, on issues which normally are not under the spotlight or if they are, they are in a stereotyped way?
EMMA CRAIGIE - This is a very big issue.  I completely agree that there is a desperate need for more diversity in children’s and YA publishing.  Certainly in Britain this is in a context of an industry where both publishers and published authors are disproportionately white.  Myself included.  I think the whole culture of the industry needs to change, with increased diversity in every area, from who gets internships upwards. In terms of the importance of books about sensitive subjects I do feel that the big publishers need to take a lead.  Ironically it is so often small publishers like mine who take risks – yet small publishers are often financially very fragile and many have collapsed since the introduction of Amazon and e-books.  On a more positive note, I think there are potentially huge rewards for publishers who do take risks. My message to publishers would be:  Our world is increasingly diverse and there is a massive audience of readers out there who are interested in an ever broader range of subjects from an ever broader range of writers.

Emma Craigie is a teacher and writer author of Chocolate Cake with Hitler (Short Book 2010),  Who was King Henry VIII (Short Books 2006), What was never said (Short books 2015). She lives in Somerset/UK.

Well done Emma Caigie and Shortbooks to offer a great opportunity to YA readers (and not only) to  challenge all the prejudices and stereotypes which usually label FGM. 

For those readers who are interested in YA novels on FGM here four more important titles:

Hougton Mifflin & Co. 2005

Rita Williams-Garcia
Amistad 2009

Margaret Nyarango
Amazon 2011

Raymond Ladebo
Fight for Life


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