My book reviews are written as a discussion of a book, and not as an advertisement. Please be aware that there may be information that some would consider spoilers and continue on at your own risk!
I am a fan of Nnedi Okorafor (I enjoyed both ‘Akata Witch’ and ‘Who Fears Death’) and Zahrah the Windseeker did not disappoint. Here’s what I thought:
Zahrah, was born with a gift known as ‘dada’. ‘Dada’ people are rumored to either be wise or rebels. However, her visible differences (tree vines growing in her hair)- and the towns fear of the unknown (there have not been any dada people for a long time) make her the object of ridicule at school. She does have one friend, Dari, who is a natural adventurer. When they decide to practice Zahrah’s new found gifts (levitation and flight) in the Forbidden Greeny Jungle Dari gets bitten by a poisonous snake, and the only way to save him is to venture even deeper into the Forbidden jungle to find a Elgort Egg. To save her friend, Zahrah must overcome her fears and embrace her potential.
The plot itself is a simple journey of self discovery and empowerment. It’s all the other elements of this story that make this book special.
Plot Score: 3/5
Location, Location, Location?
The Ooni Kingdom is a fantastical place where materials are all growing, living plants. Glass is transparent plants, computers are grown from a seed, and the buildings are live trees. What a wonderful world where man and nature are so in balance. The northern part of the kingdom, where Zahrah resides, is a very civilized area where “no way the typical northerner would go outside without wearing his or her most civilized clothes and looking clean and nice”. Their clothes are covered with little mirrors, and they carry around mirrors. This could have made these people seem vain and conceited, but in the author’s hands, these qualities did not villainize the characters. I particularly loved the description of the north westerners as ‘gloriously fat!’
The other main location was the Forbidden Greeny Jungle. This setting comes to life with all of the amazing wildlife, talking panthers and gorillas, huge mystical frogs, little furry rodents, etc. I felt as if the Ooni town was black and white and stepping into the Jungle was full color!
I also found it interesting that they referred to a mystical place called ‘Earth’! At the end, we find out the one other dada person that Zahrah knows has a mother that came from Earth.
I once read that the world we see in a well-written book is like an ice berg- we see a small percentage of what the author had created. This was definitely a ‘tip of the iceberg’ location.
Location Score: 5/5
Characters and Relationships?
This book is really Zahrah’s journey, she starts out timid and scared. For the most part, she acts very mature for her age. She does not respond to the bullies at school, taking the attitude “silence is the best answer to a fool” and “the less I talked about it, the less of a role she played in my life”. She is very cautious when she first learns she can levitate, and even when she knows she can fly, she is too scared to try. Her journey begins when she goes into the dark market to find oil for her hair and for the first time meets another dada. Her only friend, Dari, is the one encouraging Zahrah to be more adventurous. It’s his need that drives her to push past her comfort zone, go into the dangerous jungle, find the elusive egg that will save his life. By simply surviving she realizes that she is stronger than she thought. She learns she can survive, that she can face danger and that she can trust her instincts.
After reading this book, I am now ready for the adventures of Dari and Zahrah. There personalities, hers cautious and his adventurous, should make things interesting for their future endeavors.
Character Score 4/5
As a mother, this book was filled with a lot of little life lessons that I’d like to teach my daughter-
1- “It’s a general fear of the unknown that plagues the entire society” The world is small, and there is so much we don’t know. We should not let the fear of the unknown stop us from exploring- with an open but cautious mind.
2- “There’s nothing wrong with being differnt” It’s OK to be different, and we should not judge others who are different.
3- “It’s OK to care about what other people think, but you should give a little more weight to what you, yourself, think”. This is one of my favorite lines in this book. It is cliche to say we shouldn’t care what other people think, and I love this concept of respecting yourself.
Bigger Meaning Score: 5/5
I really enjoyed reading Zahrah’s journey. For me, this book was more ‘YA’ than ‘Who Fears Death’ and ‘Akata Witch’. I saw a review from a 9 year old on amazon! The forest journey, at times, got a little tedious for me, and I didn’t always enjoy reading from a child’s perspective. Everything is well written and well presented, and my dislikes here are due to personal preference.
Style Score: 3/5
– Each novel by Nnedi Okorafor is written which such thought and planning, I feel like several more stories can take place in that world. I don’t think she normally writes sequels, but man, who else wants to read the adventures of Dari and Zahrah??
-Did anyone else catch the reference to The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy? “The answer is fourth-four. That machine was off by two” Loved it.
-It’s great to read a SciFi / Fantasy story with something other than a white male lead.
Total Score and Recommendation
20 / 25-If you want a break from some of the heavier ‘adult’ novels, this is a great YA read.