Zahrah the Windseeker, by Nnedi Okorafor

Zahrah the Windseeker [Amazon | B&N | Mysterious Galaxy] is Nnedi Okorafor‘s first published novel. I’ve wanted to read Nnedi’s work for several years now, and having finally done so, I’m cranky at myself for taking so long. (Fortunately, I’ve already got another of her books waiting for me on the shelf.)

This is a YA novel which, in some respects, follows a very familiar storyline. Zahrah is different from the other kids. She’s picked on by her peers at school. She’s shy, but destined for greatness. She has a popular friend named Dari who encourages her to be more daring and explore with him. When something happens to Dari, this provides Zahrah with the push she needs to overcome her timidness and set out on her own to try to save him…

Sound like something you’ve read before? Now try this.

Zahrah was born dada, with vines growing within her thick locks, vines that twined themselves to her hair while she was still in the womb. She lives on a planet colonized ages ago and developed with biological technology, a world rooted in African culture and folklore. Zahrah grew her own computer from a seed. Shots are given using insects, and the patient is swabbed with sugar water so the insect will bite and inject the medicine. And oh yes — Zahrah can fly.

I loved it. I loved the animals, the talking gorillas and the trickster frog and even the poor, confused war snake. I loved the details, from the mirror-adorned fashion to the glitchy electronic guidebook to the background history of the library to the underlying theme of rebellion against ignorance. I loved Papa Grip and his pink caftans, and the rhythm beetles who were drawn to the music.

There were times during her quest in the forbidden jungle when it felt like Zahrah was a little too lucky (such as her encounter the whip scorpion), when other animals and characters conveniently arrived to help her. I definitely noticed these points, but they didn’t throw me out of the book. It felt right for this kind of story, which blends the flavors of science fiction and folklore and fairy tale and makes it work.

Random side note: the day after I finished this book, I dreamed about flying. (I also dreamed my car fell into a lake, but I don’t think that had anything to do with the book.)

I’d recommend this one to pretty much anyone.