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Book Review: Zahrah the Windseeker by Nnedi Okorafor-Mbachu

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On my quest to find some diversity within speculative fiction, I discovered Nnedi Okorafor-Mbachu's Zahrah the Windseeker.  I fell in love with the book as soon as I read the first page.  Zahrah the Windseeker is classified as a young adult (YA) fantasy novel, which was not a deterrent for me because YA fantasies are the books that hooked me on fantasy and science fiction in junior high school.  I still remember the first books that made me fall in love with fantasy: Madeline L'Engle's Wrinkle in Time and Ursula K. Le Guin's The Wizard of Earthsea.  I've read few books since that have inspired me as much as those two series of books until I read Zahrah the WindseekerZahrah the Windseeker refreshed, rekindled, and reignited my ongoing romance with fantasy.  But enough of my emotional love sick rant…

The main character, Zahrah, was born as a dada, that is, she was born with vines entwined in thick dark hair.  She is from the northern part of the Ooni Kingdom where no "typical northerner would go outside without wearing his or her most civilized clothes and looking clean and looking nice."  They all carry mirrors in their pockets and wear mirrors on their clothes.  She is the only dada to be born in the north and her hair sticks out like a pink elephant in such a stylish culture. 

But don't judge too harshly – the Ooni Kingdom is a wondrous place.   The computers are seeds you plant and nurture and they grows in complexity as their users grows.  Petri petals are used for money and giant plants are used as office buildings that house elevators, offices and computer networks.  Earth is mentioned in the novel as a myth, which made me love the story even more.  How many fantasy novels use Earth as a mythical place? 

One night, to her horror, Zahrah begins to levitate above her bed. Eventually, she gets the nerve to tell her best friend Dari.   Dari convinces Zahrah to practice her levitation/flying inside the Forbidden Greeny Jungle where no one will see her.  One day, while practicing in the Forbidden Greeny Jungle, Dari is bit by a poisonous snake.  The snake's venom plunges Dari into a deep sleep that will last forever unless someone goes deep into the Forbidden Greeny Jungle to find the antidote.  No one in the Ooni kingdom believes the mythical antidote exists and thus no one is willing to risk his or her life to travel deep go into the Forbidden Greeny Jungle.  That is, no one except Zahrah.  So, Zahrah sneaks away from home and heads into the Forbidden Greeny Jungle.  On her journey, she transforms from a meek, self-conscious child into a strong, confident young lady.  

I can't tell you the last time I read a book where the female heroine cried.  Zahrah cried through most of the book and I never felt like she was being whiny.  Nowadays female heroines are made to have super human strength, agility, and intelligence but Zahrah was an average everyday girl.  She could fly but that was downplayed since she's scared of heights.  Zahrah reminds me of my own daughter who at any moment can show great signs of strength and intelligence and then turn around the next day and cry because she was picked on at school.  

Zahrah the Windseeker is Nnedi Okorafor-Mbachu's first novel.  It is a strong first novel and is destined to become a classic.  I am going to buy two books and donate them to my daughter's elementary library in order to speed the process up.  Her second novel, The Shadow Speaker, is due October 15, 2007, and it will also be a young adult novel.  I am so enamored with Zahrah the Windseeker that I can't comprehend another book being just as good.  I'm looking forward to being proven wrong.  

Nnedi Okorafor-Mbachu lives in Illinois with her family.  She will be a featured guest at the first annual Galacticon, a sci-fi convention geared towards examining the diversity within speculative fiction, from July 13-15, 2007 in downtown Chicago.      

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  • this sounds really really great! I’ll have to pick up a copy. (and there is nothing wrong with reading YA)