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Sista Sister by Candice Brathwaite review – direct, accessible and very funny

Candice Brathwaite leaves no doubt about who she thinks of as Sista Sister’s audience. “I want black girls and women to read my books and to know that first and foremost, I am entering a dialogue with them”, she writes in her introduction. Placing the black female experience at the centre of her writing is a project she began in the bestselling I Am Not Your Baby Mother, and she continues it admirably in this new collection of essays.

Sista Sister is arranged into 11 punchy lessons, in which Brathwaite recounts experiences from her past and what she has learned from them. She writes “On Friendship”, “On Colourism” and “On Money”, for example, breaking the book into chapters that can be read in order or dipped into at will. Her writing is direct, accessible and in parts, very funny – little changed from the approachable style that originally made her so beloved on social media.

I raced through the lesson on hair, nodding in recognition at her salon experiences, wincing at the story of a relaxer left in too long, the burn that followed and “the smell … like standing in the middle of a fish market as the floors were being doused in bleach”. What is a relaxer? Why do some black women put it in their hair? And why does it burn? You’ll have to read the book if you don’t know; but even if you do, there is something refreshing about seeing these familiar stories in print.

Brathwaite writes particularly well about the perks and pitfalls of building a career from an online presence. She is candid about her work and how it means “essentially marketing myself full-time”. There has been monetary gain, but there have also been negative effects on her mental health, both from dealing with trolls and navigating how much of her life to share.

Most of the lessons in Sista Sister are not new: improving your communication skills so you don’t lose important friendships; learning how to manage your money and stay on top of debt; valuing yourself before seeking a relationship with another. These are the bread and butter of online coaches and self-help gurus. Yet few of these gurus also happen to be dark-skinned, crop-haired black women like Brathwaite, who breathes new life into these timeless themes. I look forward to reading what she writes next.

 Sista Sister is published by Quuercus (£16.99). To support the Guardian and the Observer buy a copy at Delivery charges may apply.

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