THE PLOT: ‘Keisha the Sket’ by Jade LB is fiction about a young Black girl in 00’s London. 17-year-old Keisha has a reputation for being a “top sket” (aka “ho”) but all she wants is to fall in love with her best friend’s brother, Riccardo. The story follows her exploits (and sexploits) during the summer before her final year of college. Originally written when the author was 13-years-old, Keisha became a 00’s cultural phenomenon as chapters were shared around schools via Bluetooth. Now published formally, this edition contains the original text (written in txt spk), a revised version and essays by the author and other Black cultural figures.
RATING: This is so hard to rate but I’m giving it three stars. ‘Keisha the Sket’ provides much-needed representation and is an important part of the literary canon. It evokes a time in my childhood so perfectly and is filled with nostalgia. However, I don’t think the treatment of the story could work for a new reader who wanted to pick this up with fresh eyes. Personally, I wish they used the original text as a jumping off point to write a detailed, nuanced story about a Black British girl in the early 00’s, rather than faithfully sticking to the old script. It still read like teenage fanfiction, which means it’s not very satisfying if you want to read it like a standalone novel. I think I wanted a triumphant story about a girl who overcomes the misogynistic labels and embraces her own sexuality, but I got a one-note story with graphic sexual depiction, a lot of trauma and a meandering plot.
GOOD BITS: This book represents a huge part of the culture. Even though I had a very different upbringing to Keisha, there is so much about the slang, outfits and characters that I relate to and remember from those traumatic teenage days. The way some of the text speak and linguistics were retained in the revised version worked really well to keep a sense of the setting and rhythm of the language. I also felt some of the added detail about the characters’ parents in the revised version and a different ending made a slightly more satisfying character arc. Finally, I enjoyed the inclusion of essays about “Keisha the Sket” that explored the hyper-sexualisation of Black girls.
NOT SO GOOD BITS: I appreciate the difficulties with publishing this book but I don’t think they got the format right. I think they should have just published one version of the story. The original text and the revised edition are very similar; therefore, it’s boring for the reader to read both of them. I ended up just reading the revised version because it was faster to get through than da txt spk. I can see why they’d want to publish the original text as a record for the culture but by solely publishing a revised version, they could have retained the flavour of the original and elevated it into a longer, more rounded narrative to give Keisha a proper character arc and more logical plot.
OVERALL: I’d recommend this book to lovers of the TV series Top Boy and ‘Hello Mum’ by Bernadine Evaristo, but I don’t think there’s a comparison title that centres a young, black girl’s sexual awakening in this way (I have vague flashbacks to Janie in ‘Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston). Please note that this book was more traumatic than I thought it would be and it might need a trigger warning for sexual abuse because it gets extremely dark.
Thank you to the #MerkyBooks for my #gifted copy in exchange for an honest review. Keisha the Sket was published on 14 October 2021 and is available to buy now.