Aleema Omotoni on examining community in Everyone’s Thinking It

"Being around people that “get it” makes you feel less alone and less afraid, but a crucial benefit to finding community is the language you can gain."


At an elite boarding school in the English countryside, Nigerian cousins Iyanu and Kitan are thrown into the middle of a schoolwide conspiracy when everyone’s juicy secrets are released “Burn Book style” the week before the annual Valentine’s Day Ball… Within the walls of Wodebury Hall, reputation is everything. This guest post is written by Aleema Omotoni, author of Everyone’s Thinking It. 

Everyone’s Thinking It tells the story of Iyanu and Kitan, estranged Nigerian cousins at Wodebury Hall— an elite boarding school in England— when the Year Twelve students’ secrets are revealed the week before the annual Valentine’s Day Ball.

I wrote the first draft at a time when community was on a lot of our minds. It was 2020, the middle of lockdown, and I was at university over zoom.

I needed an escape, an outlet for the struggles of this period. So I sought joy in my writing, an effort to create a world of hope despite the traumas around. This was the perfect recipe for pondering the meaning of community, and it naturally became a central theme I wanted to examine in my book.

Through all the characters in Everyone’s Thinking It, I explore several different kinds of community. From the Villar brothers’ Black boyhood and QPOC found family between Iyanu and her friends Quincy, Jordan and Navin, to intergenerational Black girlhood with Kitan, Iyanu, her younger sister Feyi, her mother and Quincy’s mother.

But the core journey of community is the relationship between Iyanu and Kitan. In a situation like the one you find them, with their shared experiences of misogynoir, one would think that they would find community and a safe space in each other at Wodebury Hall. So I decided to delve into the journey of getting to that place. What happens when you’re estranged from someone who you can be in community with? What can the process of growing back to each other look like?

They’re two highly melanated Black girls coming of age, understanding desirability and trying to find love in all it’s forms: self, familial, platonic and romantic. As such, the key to finding community was not just about an escape from loneliness and social isolation like Iyanu experiences, or an escape from self-sabotage and fear like Kitan grapples with. I decided to utilise the importance of language to finding community in their journey to that place.

Being around people that “get it” makes you feel less alone and less afraid, but a crucial benefit to finding community is the language you can gain. Over the years, words like misogynoir, colourism, monosexism, heteronormativity and so many others have opened up reality in a way I never knew could be given voice to until I heard them.

You acquire a way to express and understand feelings and experiences you were previously unable to explain. Having the language compounds the feeling of being less alone because the very fact that the language exists means that someone else has been though the same thing, someone else understands what you’re feeling. Suddenly, there is a tangibility to your experiences both internal and external that makes you feel seen.

Iyanu goes through this explicitly with WeCreate, the online magazine for QWOC that she discovers during a very difficult time. But I also represent this conceptually through Iyanu and Kitan’s relationship. When they were younger and still close, they didn’t talk about their experiences; they didn’t put a voice to their feelings. When they eventually became estranged, they didn’t talk at all. Including the value of language to their eventual reconciliation is what ultimately allows them to grow to that place of community and find a safe space in one another. Without giving too much away, they’re able to relieve the pressure of old wounds and finally see their experiences through the other’s eyes. Because even when having the language allows you to recognise sameness, it enables each person to show the uniqueness of their own personal journey.

Developing this arc for Iyanu and Kitan was really helpful narratively because it allowed for a balance between reconciliation and understanding that these things take time. It didn’t solve all their problems, but it created an avenue to the place I’m certain they will eventually get to. Iyanu and Kitan learn that things left unsaid can be a weight, but ultimately, having community will always help you carry it and make you feel less alone.

Everyone’s Thinking It by Aleema Omotoni is out on 17th August. (Scholastic)
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