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Pride and Joy

A Novel


About The Book

Black Cake meets Death at a Funeral in this heartwarming and hilarious novel about three generations of a Nigerian Canadian family grappling with their matriarch’s sudden passing while their auntie insists that her sister is coming back—from an author with a “razor-sharp, smart, and tender” (Nafiza Azad, author of The Wild Ones) voice.

Joy Okafor is overwhelmed. Recently divorced, a life coach whose phone won’t stop ringing, and ever the dutiful Nigerian daughter, Joy has planned every aspect of her mother’s seventieth birthday weekend on her own.

As the Okafors slowly begin to arrive, Mama Mary goes to take a nap. But when the grandkids go to wake her, they find that she isn’t sleeping after all. Refusing to believe that her sister is gone-gone, Auntie Nancy declares that she has had a premonition that Mama Mary will rise again like Jesus Christ on Easter Sunday.

Desperate to believe that they’re about to witness a miracle, the family overhauls their birthday plans to welcome the Nigerian Canadian community, effectively spreading the word that Mama Mary is coming back. But skeptical Joy is struggling with the loss of her mother and not allowing herself to mourn just yet while going through the motions of planning a funeral that her aunt refuses to allow.

Filled with humor and flawed, deeply relatable characters that leap off the page, Pride and Joy will draw you in as the Okafors prepare for a miracle while coming apart at the seams, praying that they haven’t actually lost Mama Mary for good, and grappling with what losing her truly means for each of them.


Chapter 1 — 1 —
FRIDAY, 9:32 A.M.

Mama Mary Okafor is turning seventy today, Good Friday, and at first, no one was happy about this. Simply put, if there’s anything anyone, including Mama’s daughter, Joy, knows about Mama, it’s that she would rather die than upstage God, and yet, here she is turning seventy on a holy day.

Joy couldn’t believe it. Clearly, this was cause for celebration. Mama didn’t think so. When Joy suggested they do something to mark the occasion, Mama huffed, saying, “People will already be going to church.”

“No, Mom, I mean to celebrate your birthday.”

Mama was stubborn, but after her friends, fellow Nigerian women who had grown accustomed to the sweetness of life abroad, boasted about an event they went to that served crusty and dry gizdodo, Mama changed her tune. “I want a par-ry,” Mama had told her. “With fresh gizdodo. Not that one wey dey like stockfish.”

Joy was elated. Initially, anyway. Then came the crushing realization that she had to plan a party to appease her family, including relatives she’d never meet but who would undoubtedly hear about it in her paternal village in Nigeria.

Seventy was a huge milestone and, once the menu was sorted, Mama began to see it as divine timing. Joy wasn’t so sure. “I mean, it’s just a coincidence,” she had said, to which Mama had scoffed, set her eyes on Joy, and replied, “G?n? coincidence? Chukwu ad?gh? ehi ?ra, o.” God does not sleep.

If God did ever want to sleep, Joy supposes He would pick the same six-bedroom mini-mansion backed onto a ravine outside of Toronto that Joy chose (after careful deliberation and an extensive pros-and-cons list) for Mama’s party. Usually, the local Nigerian community does hall parties, loud and festive occasions in rented community centers or banquet halls. But Mama had said she wanted a different kind of party for this birthday.

“Is there a pool?”

“Hm?” Joy raises an eyebrow, but she’s zoned out on the cars in front of her. From the moment she left her townhouse in North York to the second she got on the highway, she’s been inundated with worry. Please let this weekend go well, or… or… she’s not sure. What will it prove? She’s not a good daughter, not a good kid? She can’t budget and was right to fail advanced mathematics in high school?

That she can’t persevere the way she always thought she could.

She taps her fingers against the steering wheel as the car inches forward. Traffic on the 400 is uglier than she expected. Who would’ve guessed that this many people would be trying to escape the city on Easter weekend?

“Mom. Pool?” Jamil prods again from beside her. This time, she tilts her head and blinks rapidly before she’s finally able to snap out of it. Her son has one eye on his game device and the other on her. She’s not sure how that’s even possible, and she tries to think back to when she was twelve and could multitask without crippling anxiety. The memory doesn’t come. Yeah, because it doesn’t exist, Joy.

“No. And you don’t even know how to swim,” she says finally.

“Yeah, but Sarah said she’d teach me.”

“Your cousin?”


She didn’t know Sarah could swim. The only thing she tends to remember of her brother Michael’s daughter is that she had a very public emo phase when she was starting high school. And she looks a lot like Michael, which is to say she looks a lot like their dad.

When Joy thinks about it, it’s a bit rude that children have the audacity to look like anyone but their mothers. She never used to have thoughts like this until the long separation, and finally, the very recent divorce. Now whenever she looks at Jamil, she sees more of David than she’d like. He’s still a boy, on the cusp of adolescence, but she knows he will have the same chin as David. She can see it. They already have the same eyes, that rustic, hazel color Joy finds herself thinking of from time to time. Sometimes they pronounce words the same way, and Joy thinks it’s because Jamil is spending too much time with his dad. But then she stops herself because, really, what is “too much time with your present and involved father”? Shouldn’t she be happy? At least they agreed to shared custody. It could be so much worse.

Joy unintentionally jerks the car forward, startling Jamil from his game. “Sorry,” she murmurs. “A-and forget it, you don’t need to learn how to swim.”

Jamil snorts, his curls bouncing as he throws his head back onto the headrest. “Why? Are you gonna carry me during the apocalypse? Everyone knows it’ll be, like, every man for himself.”

Joy purses her lips and just nods, thinking back on when she was secretly obsessed with aliens as a preteen. Jamil couldn’t get away with casually referencing the end of days in front of Mama, but it reminds her that even though David has claimed his face and vocal intonations, Jamil Bianchi is truly her child and Joy has his heart. Not that it’s a competition or anything. Also, not that she should be proud he’s apparently prepping for the apocalypse.

It takes an extra half hour to see their way out of traffic before a breezy hour’s drive gets them to the rental property. Jamil gapes in awe at the winding driveway leading to the grand house. It looks just like the pictures: glass where there could be brick and manicured gardens that reflect the high property value. Off to the side, Joy can see the pathway into the expansive yard where they will hold Mama’s birthday celebration. She gets nervous just thinking about it. Everything has to happen on schedule. Everything has to be perfect.

Jamil unbuckles his seat belt and launches himself out of the car the moment Joy slows to park. “Hey, hey, wait a second!” she calls, but Jamil is too busy marveling at the motion-sensor walkway. It lights up even though it’s bright outside.

“Come help me grab stuff,” Joy says as she steps out of the car. The air feels cleaner this far from the city. She knows she’s imagining it, though. “Jamil?” She looks around and spots her son taking pictures of the exterior. “Jamil, I don’t have strength, I’m not calling you again.”

“Coming, coming.” He hurries over, stretching out his hands for whatever Joy is sure he can carry.

Joy rifles through her trunk for their suitcases, a bag of CDs with old Igbo music for the party, and her sunhat, but freezes when she hears her ringtone from the driver’s seat. “Shit,” she curses, which earns her a sharp inhale from Jamil. “Don’t— Just, hold on one second,” she says before scuttling around to the car door.

Joy didn’t mention it to anyone, because she knows if she’d told her mom or even her cousin Nnenna that she was bringing her work phone, they’d tell her it was a bad idea. She knows this now. After a hectic week at her life coaching job, the last thing she needs is to be fielding calls outside of work hours. She told everyone she was taking this weekend off, but she knew that wouldn’t stop Coral.

Coral was currently going through a painful breakup. Normally, this would be the perfect time for life coach Joy to impart her nonjudgmental wisdom to help facilitate healing, perpetuate growth, and establish some semblance of client/coach boundaries. But Joy, who was adjusting very well with her divorce until she wasn’t, could barely muster up enough strength to appear put together in front of her kid, let alone clients or strangers. She hadn’t even formally changed back her last name yet. Her identity was being held somewhere in limbo and her boundaries had all but collapsed.

She kept trying to pass Coral off to other coaches, but it was no use. Coral seemed to vibe with Joy and Joy alone, even going as far as to say, “We just get each other, you know?” at their last session. Classic transference, Joy told herself, and then proceeded to talk for the next hour about why boundaries were important.

“Be the adult,” Joy whispers to herself as she takes the call. She preaches the importance of boundaries all the time, but for some reason, she can’t seem to make them stick in her personal life. “Be the adult… be the adult—”


“Coral, hey! How are you?”

“Joy.” Coral’s voice goes limp, dissolving into a whimper over the phone. Joy’s heart drops. This will be a longer conversation than she was hoping for at 10:00 a.m. on a Friday. On Good Friday. Quickly, she signals to Jamil, telling him to go inside, before turning her back to focus on the phone call.

Coral takes a deep, shaky breath. “I’m so sorry to call like this, but I needed to talk to you. I’m—it’s—this morning, I was watching the news, right…”

“Right, right.”

“And I saw them mention, um, the park.” She chokes back a sob.

“Mmhmm, mmhmm.”

Joy listens as she busies herself with getting what she can out of the car and locking the door. She wishes she had taken the time to marvel at the exterior, too, because now as she rushes to the front door, nudging it open with her foot, it’s all a blur. She treats the entranceway like she’s been there a hundred times before. Kick off your shoes here against the spotless shoe rack, set down your luggage beside the front table—keep your keys snug in one of the many silver cups designed for trinkets and loose change—glide past the grand stairway, glance at the hanging crystal chandelier, ignore the shutter doors leading to the den, the living room, the entertainment room, waltz into the kitchen, shield your eyes from the glass panels that decorate the back of the house, squint into the distance because—is that a greenhouse out there? Was that in the ad? Forget it, forget the ad. Instead, go straight to the lush sectional, sink your way in, and listen to Coral go on and on for free.

I can’t do a free session, for fuck’s sake. Joy sighs, tapping her forehead lightly. At some point, she will have to tell Coral that this is actually, technically, a little bit illegal since Joy is not a crisis center. At some point, she will have to interject and hang up. At some point, she’ll have to locate her child and her mom and the caterer who should be hanging around somewhere and maybe the DJ will be showing up early to do a quick setup and there might not be enough chairs and tables in the backyard…

There’s just so much to do before the party tonight. So much. And, as always, she feels like she’s doing it all alone.

Please let this weekend go well, or… Or? She still doesn’t know. She just wanted to do something nice for her mom. That’s it. Contrary to what she bets her cousins are thinking, this isn’t about Joy. She just wants her mom to have a nice weekend with her family. She deserves it. Isn’t that good enough of a reason? For her busybody Nigerian family, maybe not. But for her, it could be.

Joy takes a deep breath and says, “C-Coral? Coral?” The line goes silent with Joy’s interruption. Panic creeps into her words. “I didn’t mean to cut you off. I’m so sorry, but I’m not available this weekend, remember? I told you on Wednesday. I don’t have my computer with me so I don’t have your file—”

“Oh, that’s okay. I can just explain—”

“N-no, no, I, um, it wouldn’t be fair.” Joy clears her throat. “Why don’t we, um, reschedule?”


“Or, um…”


Joy hears footsteps coming down the hallway behind her, and she turns just in time to see her mother arrive. Joy has matured to the point that now Mama’s presence is calming, like when the tide comes in and brushes the shore. As a kid, her mom’s footsteps meant trouble—she forgot to close the fridge fully, or worse, she didn’t get a good grade in school. But as an adult, Joy is conscious of the soothing, otherworldly quality Mama has. She’s like an anchor and has been that way for years, especially after Papa passed away five years ago.

Mama says nothing; just smiles, her eyes crinkling, and waves at Joy on the phone as she circles into the kitchen. She moves through the house with such ease, as if she is the matriarch in a Nollywood movie whose son built this multimillion-dollar home with money from a relative who died under suspicious circumstances.


Coral’s voice brings Joy back to her unfortunate reality—that she sucks at enforcing the boundaries she loves to advise on.

“Coral? I’m so sorry, but I will get back to you. Bye,” Joy says quickly. A flimsy, vague apology is the best thing her mind can come up with. She would much rather be here, present and semiorganized, than have to relive each pain point in Coral’s breakup—and, by extension, in her own.

As soon as she puts down the phone, Joy is enveloped by the bustle of the house. She stops and stares around at faces and bodies, most of which she doesn’t recognize. The people rushing back and forth with tablecloths and wires, chatting among themselves as they set up the outdoor space, must have been here from the crack of dawn. The party is tonight and these people are absolutely not running on Nigerian time.

Joy gets to her feet, ignoring the million-and-one things running through her mind, and gravitates to the large glass window overlooking the yard. She watches as staff place tables in an accessible pattern, while others decorate with what looks like a pulpit at the edge of the dance floor. Her heartstrings tug. Weeks of vetting professionals and calling fifteen different DJ Ebukas around Toronto has finally paid off.

Although it looks as if they might need one more table.

If it rains (will it rain today?), the canopy above the high table might not reach the pulpit.

And did she okay those specific centerpieces on all the tables?

“Shut, shut up,” Joy hisses to herself, and allows one deep breath to flow through her. “No more worrying. Take a break.”

“? s? g?n??”

Mama approaches Joy, reaching out to steady herself. Joy roots herself in place, feeling the weight of Mama’s grip.

“Mom,” Joy says.

“Ke kwanu?”

“I’m fine.”


Joy bristles at the response. In her mom’s voice, she can hear a tiny tinge of judgment, the kind that has yet to disappear, even at Joy’s big age. She heard the same eh-heh when she was fifteen, decided she didn’t want to go to church anymore, and made a PowerPoint presentation to state her case. She heard it when she was twenty and decided to pursue psychotherapy instead of something reputable like aerospace engineering.

She heard it at twenty-five, at Peace’s funeral.

“You got here early, huh?” Joy asks, squinting into the distance. “Who drove you? I said I could come get you. I’m not too far from Etobicoke now.”

Mama shakes her head; gives Joy’s arm another squeeze. “It’s fine. You know that, eh… my bosom friend, Amara”—she snickers at this, leaning in and wiggling her eyebrows to really sink in the fact that she hates this woman—“she drove me on the way to that her work. The hospital. She’s a nurse.”

“I know, Mom.”

“And she almost killed somebody! With paracetamol. Which kin’ nurse is that?”

Joy’s lip twitches, biting back a smile. “Wo-ow. She’s your friend, Mom. She drove you here.”

Mama snickers. “Who asked you? Anyway, where is that my son? My beautiful baby son.”

Mama always heaps a lot of praise on Jamil because he’s the youngest of her grandchildren. She would always call him things like “my beautiful son” and a part of Joy wondered if it was because Jamil was hers, or because Jamil was David’s. Mama really likes David, as people often do, because he’s charming and statuesque and funny in that way that you can tell is genuine. He is very good-looking, with his dark, wavy hair and intense, hazel eyes, and he is also, unfortunately, quite amiable. It was one main reason why the separation and divorce were so hard. They aren’t enemies by any means. They just aren’t the people they used to be.

How can you explain the pain associated with growing apart? It wasn’t just sharp like a knife in the side. It wasn’t even dull, like a constant, steady throbbing. Being both and neither of those things brought on an exhaustion that Joy wasn’t prepared for.

Her family didn’t understand. Her mom refused to. “Why would you get divorced?” Mama had asked when Joy finally dredged up the courage to tell them two years ago. She had come to pick up Jamil from Mama’s place after coming back from a fruitless therapy session, which Mama thought was pointless anyway. “Therapy will not fix a marriage. Did therapy give you the strength to birth your child?” is something she would always say. And she said it that day, as Joy was gathering up Jamil’s things in a hurry. Joy didn’t have the strength to tell her that it actually, truthfully, and honestly made no fucking sense.

“He’s Catholic, Roman Catholic,” Mama had continued, following Joy up and down the living room with a scowl on her face. She held the corner of her tied wrapper at her waist, clutching it as if it would unravel. “Catholics don’t divorce. It’s sinful.”

“You think Catholics genuinely care about sin? Haven’t you seen those documentaries?”

Mama frowned. “Which documentaries?”

“About the priests.”

A look of shock so grave came to Mama’s face that Joy was sure time had stopped. After a moment, Mama whispered, taunting and low, “And what about them, Joy?”

She knows, Joy thought. She just wants you to say it so she can yell at you. Joy couldn’t believe she watched this entire conversation blow up in her face. She kept forgetting she wasn’t the fun child. She could barely make a nonjoke about a Catholic priest without it turning into another intervention. “Uh, n-never mind.”

Quickly, Joy had resumed grabbing books and clothes and, wait, where was Jamil? She stopped, held on to the staircase’s railing, and called, “Jamil? Come on, we’re leaving!”

“Okay, nwa m, ndo, let me just talk to him,” Mama had said, holding her hands up like this was her last offering. “Let me talk to him and then we will see.”

Joy let out a sharp breath and stared at her mom, incredulously. “Mom, no, why? You weren’t even married to him.”

She frowned. “He’s my son-in-law—”

“Well, not for much longer.”

“Ah!” Mama had hissed and snapped her fingers above her head. The shrillness of her voice rang out through the living room and Joy, heart thumping with anxiety, froze in place. She didn’t look at her as Mama said, “You think I won’t slap you? Is that why you’re saying such foolish things?”

A sigh fluttered from Joy’s lips, pulling frustration and sadness with it. Suddenly, her eyes stung with tears. She turned away, unwilling to cry in front of her mom.

Mama took a firm step forward in that relentless, purposeful way she had, and grabbed Jamil’s bag from Joy’s grasp, picking up where Joy had left off. “Family is very important,” Mama told her quietly. Joy watched as she tucked the last book inside, zipped up the bag, and placed it at the foot of the stairs. “God has His hands in my life. He won’t ever rest. Everything will be fine.”

Joy thinks a lot about how Mama is so sure of this ever-present God, this watchful God who doesn’t sleep. Standing in their rented house, she watches staff carry a new table into the yard and forces herself to come back to the present, to stop thinking about how Mama was so sure her God would fix a problem that wasn’t orchestrated by Him in the first place. Instead, she lets her mind run back into overdrive. Where is the caterer? And where’s the, uh, the DJ? And, and, and. I’m too tired for this shit.

“Where is David? Tell him to come.”

Joy’s heart thumps, first with the shock of Mama bringing him up—and then with annoyance that, no matter how many times Joy has explained what divorce is, Mama still doesn’t get it.

Joy opens her mouth. “Ah…” and breathes out. Turning back to the window, she tries to remember… What are those things she keeps preaching about to her clients?

Oh, yes. Boundaries.

About The Author

Photograph by Linda Arki

Louisa Onomé is a Nigerian Canadian writer of books for teens and adults, including Like Home, Twice as Perfect, and Pride and Joy. She holds a BA in professional writing and a MA in counselling psychology. When she is not writing, she works as a narrative designer in games. She currently resides in the Toronto area. Find out more at

Product Details

  • Publisher: Atria Books (March 12, 2024)
  • Length: 336 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781668012819

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Raves and Reviews

"In her adult debut, Onomé explores themes of family, grief, and belonging through a unique—yet instantly recognizable—family. [...] A refreshing combination of emotional insight and family comedy; ideal for fans of Dial A for Aunties by Jesse Q. Sutanto and Someday, Maybe by Onyi Nwabineli."

Booklist (starred review)

"Onomé blends humor and pathos in her captivating adult debut. [...] Onomé’s rich storytelling is enhanced by authentic descriptions of traditional Nigerian music and foods, such as Egosi soup and chin chin, as her characters come together amid great loss. Readers will savor Onomé’s vibrant portrait of a family."

Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“Onomé has created a family so rich in heritage and complexity that I can’t believe these characters do not really exist. The love for Nigerian culture clearly shines through the page and I did not want this beautiful book to end.”

Jesse Q. Sutanto, national bestselling author of Dial A for Aunties

“An addictive family drama with bold characters and big laughs.”

Jane Igharo, acclaimed author of Where We End & Begin

“Louisa Onomé’s adult debut, Pride and Joy, is not your average grief story. ... This novel is for fans of dark, laugh-out-loud family dramas. Onomé’s flawed characters are wonderfully relatable and wildly entertaining. And the book’s themes of obligation and familial connection will captivate readers just as much as the mystery surrounding Nancy’s premonition, which sounds so genuine, one can’t help but wonder if it might just come true.”

BUST Magazine

"Onomé’s rich portrayal of Nigerian culture, foods, and traditions provides much-needed grounding, and her skillful handling of the difficulties first-generation children face as they straddle two or more cultures remains ever relevant."


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