Bolaji Abdullahi's Sweet Sixteen: Background, Summary, Themes, Style and Characters

Bolaji Abdullahi's Sweet Sixteen is JAMB's new  novel for its 2019/2020 Use of English examination. Whereas direct entry candidates are to read A.H Mohammed's The Last Days at Forcados High School for the Use of English examination, other candidates should read Bolaji Abdullahi's Sweet Sixteen for the Use of English Exam. 

About the Author
Bolaji Abdullahi (born in 1969) is well known as a politician and a journalist who hails from Kwara State, Nigeria. He has, over the years, written extensively on politics, policy and development. However, in 2017, Bolaji extended his writing tentacles to the literary corridors when he published his debut fictional work titled Sweet Sixteen.
JAMB's 2019/20 English Novel, Bolaji Abdullahi's Sweet Sixteen: Background, Summary, Style, Setting,Themes and Characters

Background of the Novel
Bolaji Abdullahi's Sweet Sixteen can be best described as a coming-of-age story or what the Germans call bildungsroman. A bildungsroman is a novel that looks at the growth and development of the main character or protagonist from childhood innocence to adulthood. It is a novel of formation, novel of education or coming-of-age story. In a bildungsroman, the focus is on the psychological and moral growth of the protagonist from childhood to adulthood. This is obviously typical of the protagonist in Bolaji's Sweet Sixteen, Aliya.

READ: JAMB's 2019 UTME/DIRECT ENTRY: All You Need to Know

Bolaji uses the growing character technique to exhibit the developmental process of his protagonist, Aliya, who is also the narrator in the novel. In the beginning of the story, we are introduced to a child protagonist (Aliya) who, although claims to be an adult, is oblivious of almost everything about and around her just like a child (that she is). However, as the narrative progresses, with the steady guide and tutorials of her indefatigable and educated father, Aliya becomes aware of so many things, ranging from menstruation to the real concept of beauty in the last chapter.

Comprehensive Summary of JAMB's New Novel, Sweet Sixteen by Bolaji Abdullahi
The JAMB's edition of Bolaji Abdullahi's Sweet Sixteen is made up of 53 pages that are
sheltered by seven (7) interesting chapters titled The LetterThe DriveWorkGandhi Test, Dating, StereotypeBeauty. These chapters will be summarised one by one.

Chapter One: The Letter
The novel opens with the introduction of the protagonist, Aliya, who is the only child of her parents. At 14, she read a book titled Sweet Sixteen, which made her feel that, at 16, she was a young adult and no more a child. Aliya had always hated being a child because she felt she was stupid being called a child. As a result, she was attracted to adult issues, and nothing about childhood fascinated her. Her father thought that this attitude of hers was because of her body size. Aliya was chubby and would always hate being called fat. Her father would always remind her that she is a child, but she would always insist that she is an adult trapped in a child's body.

Aliya has a mother who was a nurse. And her father was a journalist at her birth, a Public Relations Officer when she was in primary, and when she gained admission into secondary school, he worked with an international organisation that helped the poor in Africa. 

Aliya got into secondary school at the age of 12 and was always surprised at her father's attitude towards birthday celebration. She knew he never loved celebrating birthdays because he said the only event worth celebrating is achievement. But her mother, on the other hand, was always fascinated about birthdays. Aliya's first birthday letter was titled 'Happy birthday, my first lady. Remember that only God is greater than you.' She never understood why her dad would call her 'First Lady,' maybe because she was the first child or a special child to him.

School, to Aliya, was fun, starting from her hostel to classroom. Grace was her roommate and age mate. To others, Grace was a snob because she did not like talking. When she talked, it looked as if she would be charged for the number of words she spoke. However, to Aliya, she was a nice and generous girl. In Junior Secondary, Aliya was a science student until she met Chemistry which is her headache in Senior Secondary. Being focused, she decided to work so hard in Chemistry. Her hard work paid off, and it was evidenced in her continuous assessment result.

Aliya had this classmate who, according to the Mathematics teacher, Miss Salako, was a jerk. In the department of rascal and smartness, Akin was a gold medalist. The teacher drew this conclusion because, in geometry class, Akin pronounced mensuration, which has to do with measurement, as menstruation, which has to do with female reproductive system. And this got all the students in the classroom laughing. The provoked teacher punished Akin by sending him to the wall. Surprisingly, at the end of the term, Akin had 'A' in Mathematics.

Bobo, whose real name is Tokunbo, cannot be left out of the picture. He gave Aliya a valentine gift which was a teddy bear on whose heart was written 'I love you.' On visiting day, Aliya went out with the teddy bear to show her father at the table chess ground which was their normal spot during visiting days. She told her father how the gift came about and added that Bobo said he likes her. Her father, in return, asked her if she likes him (Bobo), but she said no. Aliya's father, Mr Bello, went on to tell his daughter that boys like dumb girls, adding that Bobo likes her because she is dumb. She objected because, to her, being dumb was not being intelligent. And she believes she is intelligent. Her father also told her that any girl who has sex with boys or lives a rascal life is dumb, any girl who does know she is exploited is dumb and any girl who has to give something in return for that is dumb. Out of guilt, she asked if could return the teddy bear, but her dad said she should do what she thinks is right. She could not do that because she felt she wouldn't do that without hurting Bobo. On her very attempt to return the gift, the duty master approached them, and that ended their discussion. Thereafter, Bobo travelled to Ireland.

Also note that Aliya is asthmatic. On visiting days, her dad would always end their conversation by asking her if she had her ventolin inhaler. Normally, on Aliya's birthdays, her principal, after morning devotion, did hand over gifts and cards. But on her 16th birthday, things weren't normal and the surprise was huge. The one important person that doesn't give her birthday present, her dad, gave her (through the principal) a portable digital camera she had earlier requested. That was not all. Her birthday card, on which was written 'Sweet Sixteen' in a letter titled 'Letter to my daughter,' was also given to her as a birthday gift from her dad. At first, she thought her dad copied Maya Angelou's work because of the same headline, but she found out that her dad only copied the headline whereas the body was his own words. The letter was a 16-page work that began with how time flies, and each page was for each year of her life.

Chapter Two: The Drive 
In her blue jeans and Chelsea Football Jersey which her dad bought for her from London (with the nickname First Lady printed at the back), she was set for outing to air boredom, and her mom was on duty that morning. Mr Bello decided to take his daughter for a ride round town. Things got her attention during the drive. She saw girls of her age running round selling wares, which made her feel they had freedom since they had opportunities to go anywhere and meet anyone, unlike her who lived behind fence which her grandma called prison.

Stopping by Aunty Gigi’s, they bought vanilla chocolate ice cream and fresh orange juice for Daddy. The ice cream helped Daddy to break the silence and ask her if she knew ice cream affected women’s menstruation. Aliya's answer to question is no. Mr Bello has always wanted to have such discussion with her since she’s gradually becoming matured.

Seeing the ice cream as an opportunity, he went further to ask her what she knew about menstruation. Her response, “Mum and aunt taught me how to menstruate” got her father laughing. He corrected his daughter by saying “You are not taught how to menstruate but what to do during such period.”

Aliya remembers her mum telling her that boys touching her could get her pregnant, but she knew that was not possible as she knew about sex and had also read Aunty Molara’s Cosmopolitan Magazine. She could also reminisces her dad telling her that her mind was a beautiful room and should not allow things like bad language, violence, vulgarism to be properties in the room. In addition, she should avoid bad friends and  should not allow anyone to check her private.

Aliya reads her 16th birthday letter again and again. She loves the letter; it makes her cry without knowing. She has pure love for her father and purposed in her mind to keep the letter for her children. Aliya is still so much interested in making good grades in her Chemistry.

Chapter Three: Work 
Aliya’s return to the house after their examination actualizes her desire to gain more explanation from her father on the contents of the letter. After making and serving tea for breakfast, recalling several attempts and processes of coaching by her mother in order to perfect tea-making that will suit her father, she begins her discussion with her dad. She informs him about her intention to switch from her initial career choice of medicine to law because she does not like the sight of blood. He thinks she is actually trying to run from Chemistry. However, she is able to prove to him that it is not the case. Producing her result for the just concluded term, she has an 'A' in Chemistry. She is a bit surprised at his non-imposing attitude towards her choice of course to study; he rather lets her know that her heart desire is most important.

She tells her dad about her classmate who she catches in the exam hall cheating. He seriously cautions and dissuades her from ever indulging in such a shameful act. He explains to her that nothing pays like hard work and one could learn some positive lessons from failure, which is just a seemingly and negative experience. He uses the poem "Ulysses" by Alfred Lord Tennyson to teach her lessons on hard work and a book by Kahlil Gibran titled The Prophet to tell her the importance of uniqueness in children and why they should be given equal attention and care unlike the attitude of parents of the girl who Aliya said was cheating in the Physics exam.

He further admonishes her on the wealth of wisdom that is gotten from books and laments the unwillingness of the present generation to uncover the boundless wealth of knowledge and wisdom hidden in books. Aliya decides to go through the book on her own for better understanding because she really likes some of the things her dad says about the book. The quote,  "That which we are, we are, one equal temper of heroic heart, made weak by time and fate, but strong in will To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield," is a poem titled “ULYSSES” by Alfred Lord Tennyson whereas the quote, “For the souls dwell in the house of tomorrow which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams,” is by Kahlil Gibran.

Also note that Stephanie Meyer is an American novelist and film producer who is best known for her vampire romance series Twilight. And John Ray Grisham Jr is an American novelist, attorney, politician and activist who is best known for his popular legal thrillers. His books make Aliya to think of becoming a lawyer.

Chapter Four: Gandhi Test 
Aliya’s family travels a lot, and when returning, they always bring back mementos. A memento is an object one keeps as a reminder for something. Their living room is filled with mementos. Some of the mementos include a young Arab boy riding a camel, statue of a maasal couple from Nairobi, Eiffel tower from Paris, Ijambulo, the lion cub from South-Africa, two hand-painted ostrich egg shells from Tanzania, the Tower Bridge and the bright-red television booth from London, the statue of liberty from New York, the pyramid and the sphinx from Egypt, a crystal Burj Khalifa in Dubai, which is the tallest building in the world, and several other items.

Aliya and her mum had their own mementos. Her mum has decorated plates from China whereas Aliya has a camel with jingle bells that she bought from Dubai. All these are contained in a huge mahogany cabinet decorated with glass doors. Two bright orange sofas and two green single chairs made up the living room.

Aliya still has some lingering questions in mind from the letter she has read. Thus she decides to gist with her father after breakfast. The family breakfast that morning comprises bread, okra and coke. After having breakfast, she goes on to inquire from her dad about the Gandhi test which is named after the great Indian activist, Mahatma Gandhi. Her dad explains that the importance of the test is that people always hide their acts from others when they know that what they are doing is immoral or wrong. However, if one is sure that what one does is right and acceptable to other members of the society, they will not need to hide or be afraid of getting caught by others.

On the biography of Mahatma Gandhi, he corrects her notions saying that he fights for his country to gain independence from Great Britain, and he is just an activist who is not interested in political power. As such, he is never a president.

He summarizes his points on the need of ethics and morals in society which makes it organized and humans different from animals. It may not be spelt out as the same in every society, but every society bears the same unit elements. Stealing and cheating are both negative elements in every society.

Also note that ALBERT EINSTEIN was a German-born theoretical physicist who developed the theory of relativity, one of the two pillars of modern physics. His work is also known for its influence on the philosophy of science. He died on April 18, 1955.

Chapter Five: Dating 
Aliya wants to know if it is okay with her father if she goes into a dating relationship, especially now that she has turned 16. At first, she is quite shy to say it out to him, but since it is a pressing issue on her mind, she has to open up and talk about it with him.

She meets her father in the living room trying to put on the television with a remote control, but the batteries are bad so the TV does not come on. She describes the television as “No testing” like her aunt would say. The television is looking dead and black. She thinks of how to start the conversation. Finally, she begins by saying: “Daddy, you know I am 16.” Her dad doesn't seem to pay much attention to what she is saying, and this gets her a bit annoyed. He is a devout fan of the English football club, Chelsea, and they have a match that afternoon.

She asks her father if it is okay for her to date. He pretends he does not know what she means. Then he said (after listening to her) that he quite does not have a problem with people dating, but the challenge is whether they have what it takes to sustain such an affair. He tells her about the risk of indulging in amorous activities of any kind and its consequences on her academics. He is definitely sure she is not mature enough to handle the pressure of a ‘dating relationship,’ and he makes her realize that people pay a huge sacrifice whenever they go into such activities.

He tells her that before she does anything, it is important for her to weigh the pros and cons. According to him, most times, the cons outweigh the pros because one is paying a serious sacrifice for something which could have waited till a more appropriate time.

She thinks about Bobo, her classmate who has bought her a teddy bear on her birthday. She has been crushing on him secretly and unconsciously without openly admitting. However, her father uses this to teach her important lessons on how to checkmate her emotions.

In the end, she really appreciates having a man like him for a father. He told her about the 5-why test. He says that by asking ‘WHY’ five times, any issue could be clarified and seen for what it really is. She also tells her father some of the slang they use on social media and their meanings: HAK, KOTL, 53X and KPC which respectively mean: Hugs and kisses, Kisses on the lips, S3x and keep parents clueless.

She tells her dad about Zak. He is her schoolmate. He is also in the school's football team. One day, he hands a note after assembly which says: “Do you know any cardiologists because my heart skips a beat every time I think of you?” After their conversation, her father replaces the dead remote battery with new AA batteries, and the TV comes alive afterwards. They converse for some time more. Then he promises her they shall continue the discussion after the football game. She hopes Chelsea win as her dad may not be in the mood to talk if they do not.

Chapter Six: Stereotype
Their conversation of the previous day does not continue not minding that Chelsea has won the match. Mr. Bello has to attend to other important issue(s). Aliya reads Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet. Ironically, it makes her fall asleep much faster. By the time she wakes up the next morning, the sun is already up. And she is aware that her father seriously frowns at anyone who does not say their morning prayers before sunrise. She has a pair of rabbit-like slippers which is given to her by Auntie Molara.

The family settles for yam and fried eggs as breakfast. Aliya and her dad has expected to finish their conversation when her mum leaves but were a bit disappointed when she informs both of them that she is off duty for the day. Her parents love each other very much. Thus they live in peace and harmony. They seldom fight, and even when they fought, they would make sure she didn't get to know about it. However, she would manage to find out usually from her mom’s actions. Her mom will put up a repulsive and irritable attitude, and at such occasions, Aliya will be cautious and scared to go close to her.  But her dad will just act all cool and normal.

Aliya mentions to her dad about Rebecca. They stay in the same hostel but not the same room; she is in SS3 while Aliya is in SS2. The girl has said that all Muslims are killers and will all go to hell. He cautions her not to give into stereotypes by behaving how she has been mirrored by the person. He reminds her of what Muhammed Ali said: “Hating people because of their color or religion is wrong.” He explains to her what stereotype means. He makes her understand that it is a way of making general statements or assumptions, that is, using the action of a few members of a group or class of persons to represent or categorize everyone from that group or class. He makes her aware of statements like “Every Muslim is a killer.” He reprimands her against the foolishness and illogicality of such statements and urges her never to make such utterances to others. He encourages her not to bother fighting people who do that as it is just a sign of their lack of understanding.

Speaking of stereotypes, she tells her dad about how people are making fun of her because of her body size and how they call her all sorts of insulting names like Fatima and Latifat. She recounts an experience of how a teacher has humiliated her during a lesson in front of everyone and even drawn mockery images on the board representing her. Mr Bello is genuinely alarmed that a teacher could behave in that crude manner.

He reminds her about a quote from Gandhi which states that no one can hurt you without your consent, and promised to promptly take up the matter with the Principal whom he has a cordial relationship with. He advises her to rise above personal feelings and sentiments so as to see another way of looking at the world.

He ends with a short story of a white slave trader and one of the enslaved black men. They both survived a shipwreck and found themselves on a deserted island. Instead of the black slave to take revenge on his white captor who had treated him with great contempt, he rather helped him recover from his injuries.

Chapter Seven: Beauty 
Mom has gone to the salon to make her hair while Aliya lies on her bed thinking about the story her dad has told concerning the slave and his wicked captor. She finds it hard to believe that a person can still respond with such acts of kindness even after being subjected to so much suffering and humiliation.

After the afternoon prayers, her dad goes to her room to finish the conversation they have started earlier because he will travel the next day. On entering her room, a copy of Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations is on her desk. She asks her dad if what happened in the story is possible. He confirmed to her that even though he knows it is difficult, but certainly, it is possible. He told her that he has told her the story to teach her that people can be influenced positively if she reacts to them differently instead of looking forward to paying them back for any injury they may have caused her. She remembers her biology teacher whom she has sworn never to forgive because he ridicules her before the whole class by calling her mockery names like Fatima and Latifat.

She also tells him about a girl in SSS 3 by name Bunmi who makes it her life assignment to always pick on her because she feels that Aliya thinks she is better than every other person. He explains to her that maybe the girl feels intimidated by her. He tells her that people who bully others or ridicule them can be doing that because they feel intimidated by those persons.

Her father then decides to correct some of the wrong notions people had about the concept of beauty. He makes her understand that people define beauty according to their cultural background, and because of that, the definition of beauty differ from place to place. He told her that what made one beautiful was one’s heart. A beautiful person is one who has a beautiful heart, one who always looks to bring happiness to other people. He further tells her that a beautiful heart is better than a beautiful face.

He urges her to never take the privileges she has for granted; rather, she should endeavor to plan for her own kids and succeeding generations too. He ends with a short story of a hunter who went on an unsuccessful mission, and after starving for so long, stumbles on a restaurant in the forest where he was taken care of with food and drinks, all paid for by his ancestors. But he was required to pay for his children’s meals.

The moral of this story is that information that is received by one should be passed on to succeeding generations. It also teaches that she should be responsible to her own kids when she has her own family and give them a good foundation the same way he has given to her. Aliya loves her father for these wonderful lessons he teaches her.

Finally, she considers her mom a lucky woman for having a husband such as him. She says a long prayer: “God bless you, my father, teacher, and my prophet.”

Style in Bolaji Abdullahi's Sweet Sixteen
Style is a particular way, pattern or design in which a literary work is written. Some of the elements of style in Bolaji Abdullahi's Sweet Sixteen are:

1. Language/Diction
The language of the novel is simple and easy to understand.

2. Structure
The novel is divided into seven (7) chapters: The LetterThe DriveWorkGandhi Test, Dating, Stereotype and Beauty. In each of these chapters, the protagonist (Aliya), through the help of her father, becomes aware of certain things she was ignorant of.

3. Point of View/Narrative Technique
The story is told from the first person point of view. In this technique, the writer uses a character as the only single narrator of  the story. The author uses personal pronouns such as 'I, We, Me' to recount his story.

Themes in Bolaji Abdullahi's Sweet Sixteen 
Some of the themes treated in Bolaji Abdullahi's Sweet Sixteen are:

1. The importance of parental guidance in the lives of teenagers 

2. The theme of love.

3. Knowledge is power.

4. Hard work pays.

5. The effects of books on teenagers.

Characters in Bolaji Abdullahi's Sweet Sixteen

1. Aliya
Aliya is the main character or protagonist of the Novel, Sweet Sixteen. She is the only child of her parents and is very close to her dad. She faces some moral challenges in school and as she turns 16, she asks a lot of questions to satisfy her curiosity.

2. Mr Bello
Mr Bello is knowledge personified. His well of knowledge never gets dry. He is well read and makes practical references to some text. He is the father of Aliya, a husband to Mrs Bello and a son to Big Mummy. He is a journalist. He loves Aliya so much and keeps an eye on her as she grows up.

3. Mrs Bello
Mrs Bello is a nurse. She is the mother of Aliya and the wife of Mr Bello. She loves her family but is not as close to Aliya as Mr Bello.

4. The Principal
The Principal is an older man compared to Mr Bello. He is a Christian and a native of Tiv . He admires Aliya and calls Aliya “Daddy’s angel and Superstar.” He is a good friend to Mr Bello, Aliya's friend.

5. Bobo
Bobo is Aliya's classmate who gave her a Teddy bear on Valentine’s Day. He later travelled to Ireland. There was a time he went to the canteen with a girl known as Morayo.

6. Akin
Akin is Aliya’s Classmate. Although well known for his provocative jokes in class,  Akin is a very brilliant student.

7. Miss Salako
She is the mathematics teacher that punished Akin for making jokes in her geometry class.

8. Bunmi
She is Aliya's senior in school and also a bully; she bullies Aliya.

9. Biology Teacher
He is an insensitive teacher who calls Aliya 'Fatima.'

10. Zak
Zak is a proud boy in Aliya’s school who gives her a love note.

11. Grace
Grace is Aliya’s roommate who hardly talks. As a result, people think she is a snub. But Aliya sees her a nice girl.

12. Bisi
Bisi is the girl who tried tricking Aliya from running to the Principal’s office.

13. Big Mummy
Big Mummy is Mr Bello’s mum. In other words, she is Aliya's grandma and Mrs Bello's mother-in-law.

14. Aunty Molara
Aunty Molara is Mrs Bello younger sister and Aliya’s aunt.

15. Sogo
Sogo is Aliya’s classmate whom the father said will study law since he is a lawyer.

16. Rebecca
Rebecca is Aliya’s classmate that provoked her with thoughts about religion and terrorism.

Tamuno Reuben

Those who seek knowledge seek power because the pen is mightier than the sword.


  1. please,i need the explanation of the themes in sweet sixteen

    1. The explanation on the themes of sweet sixteen

  2. Thanks for giving the summary of this novel. many JAMBITEs will find it useful to prepare for 2020 UTME

  3. I really love this concept your kind gesture is really apreciated.thanks

  4. Pls who are the two main characters in sweet sixteen

  5. Pls who are the two main characters in sweet sixteen

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