When I love books, I love them; if they’re well-written and the authors genuinely make an attempt to create worlds that are beautiful and interesting in their own way, I’ll probably enjoy it even if I have some problems with them. That was the case for the following two books.
Zahrah the Windseeker by Nnedi Okorafor
I feel like I need to start with the book that I’m capable of writing the least about because it’s always hard for me to expand on sentiments of adoration for anything. I loved this novel so much, and I feel like everyone should read it at least once. If anything, it definitely is something that should be recommended to all young girls.
Essentially, the story is that of a young girl named Zarah. She’s grown up knowing that she was born dada – meaning she has special abilities – and that she’s different from those around her; this difference makes people both intrigued and fearful of her, even though she starts the story out with a very timid nature. However, once her friend falls comatose due to the bite of a snake in the Forbidden Greeny Jungle, she takes it upon herself to go deep into the tropical forest in order to save him. As she travels, she undergoes emotional and physical changes.
I love the fact that this is an incredibly relatable coming of of age story, even though there are clearly aspects of West African cultural traditions and mythology involved in its telling. These elements are woven together in such a way that it makes everything compelling while also educational; it incites interest and a desire to learn more about the variety of cultures that influenced the story.
It’s also one of the few stories where I’ve ever seen an author openly mention a girl having her first menstruation cycle and not making it some disgusting event where she’s terrified of it; Okorafor has Zarah talk about it with her mother, and her father is equally celebrating this change in his daughter’s life. I feel like every girl needs to read something like this, especially those from cultures where menstruation is viewed as something dirty rather than natural. This is such an important thing, and I’m glad it was included.
I honestly can’t remember an aspect of this book I didn’t adore. If anything, it’s made me more interested in Okorafor’s other writings and has definitely cemented my desire to read her entire collection. It was just such a fantastic and imaginative journey. Again, I want everyone to read it.
Alice in Deadland (#1) by Mainak Dhar
Dhar had an interesting concept that I felt was oddly executed; I really liked the idea of using Alice in Wonderland to create a world for a zombie apocalypse that also commented on the power by many of today’s imperialist nations (the United States, the United Kingdrom, China) and the abuse of power by many of the affluent individuals who hold the vast majority of the world’s wealth.
There’s a very distinctly Indian perspective, even though the main character is a blonde-haired white girl named Alice. The story takes place in what used to be Delhi; no longer do any of the countries exist because a plague has been unleashed upon the population in order to control the populace. The excessively wealthy and abusively powerful from the West manipulated a situation in which they released a disease into parts of the population in China, which then led to the rise of the Chinese Red Guards who were able to take control after the disease went farther than the Western nations ever intended.
It is a story of survival of those who wield the least amount of power in the face of manipulation and repeated abuse. It includes excessive military action against civilians, starving people into being controlled, enslaving populations of people to work on farms, and many other aspects of life under colonialism and imperialism.
I liked this aspect of the novel, especially as Dhar was capable of making these ideas accessible to young readers. I liked the concept of the novel, especially as Alice in Wonderland has been something I’ve adored since I was young. I liked that the Queen was reimagined as an ally rather than as an enemy.
Alice was a somewhat weird character, however. I thought it bizarre that, in a story that takes place in what used to be India, the protagonist would be a white girl. I assume it’s because of the inspiration for Alice and the reference to the art of the novel’s cover, but I still thought it was bizarre. Her characterisation was nicely done for having grown up as a child of mixed culture, integrating the local culture into her habits and language. Unfortunately, some of the side characters often were lacking of personality; I wanted to know more about Dr Protima, Amit Dewan, Arjun, and Satish; there were people we were supposed to mourn through Alice but knew nothing about them. The antagonists were completely flat, as well; they were written like strict villains who had no other goals or aspirations other than maintaining power.
Also, I found it difficult to read because it really needed an editor to go through it again. Many of the incorrect word usages were distracting to me, especially because I am dyslexic; it made passages much more difficult to read, and it always made me go back and try to re-read the sentences in order to understand what was actually being said. There were repeated confusions between words like through/though, we’re/were/where, you/your, and then/than/that. There were sentences that made no sense and required repeated reading in order to figure out what Dhar really meant to write. Though this story is interesting and is worth trying, it might be somewhat difficult for people who have reading difficulties.
If I read the rest of the series, it might be better later. I hope that the editing problems have been solved in later novels, as that was really what detracted from the story because I spent a lot of time trying to make sense of a few random parts of the book. Honestly, if Dhar wants an editor to help fix those issues, I wouldn’t mind; the story’s interesting, and that would make it so much better for me.