The Icarus Girl

First sentence: ‘”Jess?” Her mother’s voice sounded through the hallway, mixing with the mustiness around her so well that the sound almost had a smell.’

Jessamy is a 9-year-old mystic, daughter of a Nigerian mother and English father. She doesn’t quite fit in anywhere — at home, at school, in England, in Nigeria. When visiting her mother’s family in Nigeria she makes a new friend unlike any other friend she’s had before. Tilly understands her, likes her, is strong and brave and likes to have fun. To Jess’s delight and surprise, her new friend moves to England. But all is not well with Tilly, nor with Jess, and things start to go terribly, terribly wrong.

The Icarus Girl by Helen Oyeyemi was fascinating to read. Oyeyemi seamlessly weaves a child’s imagination with Nigerian and English spirituality, creating a work of magical realism that compels you to keep reading. To be honest, I found The Icarus Girl to be rather creepy, sometimes disturbing. Perhaps I related too much with Jess; perhaps I am so adept at suspending disbelief that I forget to take it up again. But as creepy as I found it, I also enjoyed it. I really liked Jess, and was impressed by how Oyeyemi tapped into a precocious 9-year-old’s mentality. The writing is smooth, effortless. I will definitely keep an eye out for more of Helen Oyeyemi’s novels.

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