Genres: Fantasy & Magic, Young Adult
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In the northern Ooni Kingdom, fear of the unknown runs deep, and children born dada are rumored to have special powers. Thirteen-year-old Zahrah Tsami feels like a normal girl--she grows her own flora computer, has mirrors sewn onto her clothes, and stays clear of the Forbidden Greeny Jungle. But unlike other children in the village of Kirki, Zahrah was born with the telling dadalocks. Only her best friend, Dari, isn’t afraid of her, even when something unusual begins happening--something that definitely makes Zahrah different. The two friends determine to investigate, edging closer and closer to danger. When Dari’s life is threatened, Zahrah must face her worst fears alone, including the very thing that makes her different. In this exciting debut novel by Nnedi Okorafor-Mbachu, things aren’t always what they seem--monkeys tell fortunes, plants offer wisdom, and a teenage girl is the only one who stands a chance at saving her best friend’s life.
This is the first book that Nnedi Okorafor published. It is a middle grade novel about a girl who is born different and whose difference is not easily hidden. Zahrah has vines growing out of her head along with her hair. As she starts to go through puberty, she also develops the ability to levitate. She doesn’t want to be any more of an oddity so she hides this skill. Besides, she’s afraid of heights.
On the outskirts of the town there is the Forbidden Greeny Jungle. No one goes in there. No one knows anything about it except it is dangerous. Zahrah’s friend Dari is obsessed with a book that tells of people who explored the Jungle. They found it absurd that no one knew anything about an area that covers most of the land. Zahrah tolerates Dari’s obsession. After all, he believes in the mythical land of Earth too. When Zahrah needs a private place to practice levitation and Dari wants to go into the Jungle, they decide to go together.
There is overflowing imagination in the building of this world. Plants are used for everything. Computers are grown from seeds and tended like flowers. Buildings are grown the same way. In the Dark Market, forbidden to children, are fortune tellers who interpret the psychic readings of baboons and vendors who sell two headed parrots who fight with themselves. Zahrah meets gorillas who speak and live in villages in the Jungle. She finds all kinds of amazing creatures in the jungle.
Zahrah is a good heroine because she is afraid of everything but learns to trust her skills and her judgement. She finds out that she is capable of so much more than anyone gave her credit for.
I liked the idea of everything being plant based in this world. While I was reading this book, I happened to listen to the Infinite Monkey Cage podcast called What Is The Point of Plants that discussed quantum interactions in plants. They had a discussion of whether or not your lawn is a lazy quantum computer. Zahrah would have been able to make it work. She was good at growing computers.