I’d Like Some Social Spice

I found Zahrah the Windseeker by Nnedi Okorafor-Mbachu in looking for a book for the “Afrofuturism” prompt for the Reading Women 2020 Challenge. I had a hard time finding something I wanted to read for this prompt because futurism of any kind is not my usual fare, and almost everything I saw involved a dystopian future–not what I’m looking for in the middle of a pandemic.

So I was pleased to find this lovely YA book about the adventures of Zahrah, a young girl in the Kingdom of Ooni who was born “dada”–something that is never fully explained but that involves wisdom and special powers. Zahrah has mixed feelings about this because it also means that her hair grows in dadalocks, thick locks intertwined with vines, which are conspicuously unlike the soft, tidy Afros of the style-conscious Ooni people. Ooni is a land where plants play a far bigger role than on Earth–people live in enormous trees, special plants provide light, and people use flower petals for currency. One of my favorite tidbits about the Ooni world was this: “If you grew and ate your own personal pepper, you became socially spicy; people laughed more at your jokes, found you more attractive, wanted to be around you more.” How funny and delightful!

Zahrah and her friend Dari venture into the Forbidden Greeny Jungle, a wild place on the outskirts of their town. Dari runs into trouble, and Zahrah must embark on a dangerous adventure to save him. Of course her dada powers come in handy at a critical time. The book is written in the first person from Zahrah’s perspective, so the reader sees this adventure through her eyes, including everything that frightens her and the way in which she overcomes her fears and becomes more confident. Okorafor-Mbachu captures the voice of a girl Zahrah’s age; this feels like reading Zahrah’s diary. And of course I loved seeing a girl as the protagonist in an adventure novel. It was a little too YA-style for me; I think it’s rare for a YA book to really appeal to an adult audience as much as it appeals to to the target age group. But nonetheless it was a fun, engaging read.

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