There’s something to be said for the start of a new school year. Even if the actual prospect of returning to school filled many with dread after the halcyon days of summer holiday, the feeling of preparation still sits satisfyingly with any academic type returning to education, whether that’s acquiring new school supplies. the feeling of new, empty notebooks, or the idea of seeing your friends on a daily basis.
It’s no wonder then that school-based stories tend to release towards the new school year, such as Aleema Omotoni’s Everyone’s Thinking It, a masterfully-plotted mystery that sees a pair of mismatched cousins team up to solve a theft and a mass shaming of the school populace at their exclusive boarding academy, blending together Dear White People-style social commentary and a retelling of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
The premise is simple enough: at the ultra-posh Wodebury Academy, twins Iyanu (British-born, nerdy, a passionate photographer) and Kitan (a relatively recent transplant from Lagos, perfect and popular) find themselves at the centre of a societal disaster when Iyanu’s photographic negatives and Polaroids are stolen, the latter later scattered across the school with defamatory accusations scrawled on the back. The premise itself is not the most revelatory – one only need to look at works such as Sarah Emmi’s Tell Me Everything, Katie Zhao’s The Lies We Tell, or Connie Wang’s The Takedown, to find similar tales – but it’s still enjoyable enough to allow for fresh takes to be told.
The delight in Everyone’s Thinking It lies in Omotoni’s balance between the perspectives of Iyanu, who is the kind of funny, prickly, acerbic brilliance that we’ve seen in mystery-focused teen media since the Nineties (here’s looking at you Veronica Mars), while Kitan gets to deconstruct the archetype of the popular, polished girl. Omotoni lends little touches into exploring this dichotomy, whether it’s the difference between how each of their leads explores their Blackness through their hair, or how each of them approaches their overlapping, shifting dynamics with respective love interests, allies, and frenemies.
There’s also plenty of deeper themes satisfying explored in Everyone’s Thinking It; one of Kitan’s frenemies is an unabashed ‘blackfisher’ (i.e. a white person who takes on physical and social characteristics of Black culture without doing any research, self-reflecting, or consulting actual Black people), allowing Omotoni to explore the nuances and history of abhorrent practices such as colourism, blackface and its modern interpretations, through the lens of young adults grappling with their own senses of identity, sexuality, race, and other socio-cultural facets. It’s perhaps more commendable that it manages to do so whilst still being an enjoyable, engaging mystery and a heartwarming story about community, connection, and two cousins finding their way back to one another.
Everyone’s Thinking It walks the tightrope between being a compelling YA mystery and a satisfying, engaging story about modern Black identity and young people finding their place in the world. The reader looking for a high-stakes, murder-filled thriller might be a little bit let down by the lack of fallen bodies, but take a chance upon the pages of Everyone’s Thinking It; one of the year’s best UK-based YA stories lies within.
Everyone’s Thinking It it is out on 17th August from Scholastic.