Author: Helen Oyeyemi
Published: 2005 Pages: 335
In Short[ish]: Jessamy is an eight-year-old who never seems to quite fit in with one crowd or another, but when she visits her extended family in Nigeria she meets a new friend Titiola. TillyTilly, as Jess calls her, presents a whole new world where someone knows Jessamy better than even her own self. When the new world begins to show cracks, though, it becomes difficult to know what is real and what is not.
Why I read The Icarus Girl: When looking for suggestions for Diverse Universe, Oyeyemi's name popped up a few times. I actually thought about reading White is for Witching but was turned off by the white girl on the cover when I was hoping to read something non-white for the challenge. And let me tell you how tough it was to find a book for the challenge! I took a long list to my Indie bookstore and struck out on all accounts. I did better at the library but not a whole lot.
Thoughts in General: I was immediately intrigued by Jessamy's story. I don't typically read books about children as young as Jessamy is, especially as the focal character in a story, but I could tell that she was different and was going to be presented with depth. But for me the real star of The Icarus Girl is the atmosphere that Oyeyemi sets for the reader. The mood of the novel is dark and dream-like with haunting imagery and a constant unsettling. Even at when I first started reading the book and was questioning whether this was truly a speculative fiction novel, I could feel the atmosphere settle upon me like a blanket.
There are many great things going for this book but there were also some weak points, but after learning that Oyeyemi wrote this novel when she was nineteen, I think that my complaints are really due to the author's youth and inexperience. Is this unfair of me? Nineteen is awfully young. The complaints? Glib where I wanted depth and focus where I wanted periphery (more emotional depth, less schoolyard plot). I also would have loved to know more of the Nigerian folklore that is hinted at in the book as I believe this would have provided a richer understanding of the story. But ultimately it is a vivid book that mostly had my captive attention.
Bottom Line: I don't think that Oyeyemi is an author to miss—or put in a more positive tone, I think that Oyeyemi is a bright young author to keep your eye on. I'll be curious to learn more about her writing and seek out some of her other books. Oyeyemi is a young author and I could feel her greenness in reading The Icarus Girl, but I can also feel her great potential as a weaver of stories. Care asked me several great questions to help prep for this post, but the most difficult question she asked is who would be the most responsive audience for this book. I'd have to say those with an open mind who are looking to in reading a book that will make you question how powerful the psyche can be.
This post is part of the book blogging event A More Diverse Universe where over 100 bloggers have committed to reading a speculative fiction novel by a person of color. As author Hiromi Goto explains "I’m looking for more than just a skin colour and small gestures. I want a full-blown world that’s rich, diverse and multi-layered with stories and histories." Please make sure to check out all of the other participants this week.
Have you read any of Oyeyemi's novels? Are you participating in Aarti's More Diverse Universe?