Synopses & Reviews
Jessamy Jess Harrison is eight years old. Sensitive, whimsical, possessed of an extraordinary and powerful imagination, she spends hours writing haiku, reading Shakespeare, or simply hiding in the dark warmth of the airing cupboard. As the child of an English father and a Nigerian mother, Jess just can't shake off the feeling of being alone wherever she goes, and the other kids in her class are wary of her tendency to succumb to terrified fits of screaming. Believing that a change from her English environment might be the perfect antidote to Jess's alarming mood swings, her parents whisk her off to Nigeria for the first time where she meets her mother's family including her formidable grandfather.
Jess's adjustment to Nigeria is only beginning when she encounters Titiola, or TillyTilly, a ragged little girl her own age. To Jess, it seems that, at last, she has found someone who will understand her. But gradually, TillyTilly's visits become more disturbing, making Jess start to realize that she doesn't know who TillyTilly is at all.
Helen Oyeyemi draws on Nigerian mythology to present a strikingly original variation on a classic literary theme: the existence of doubles, both real and spiritual, who play havoc with our perceptions and our lives. Lyrical, haunting, and compelling, The Icarus Girl is a story of twins and ghosts, of a little girl growing up between cultures and colors. It heralds the arrival of a remarkable new talent.
"The story of a troubled eight-year-old haunted and ultimately possessed by family secrets, this spooky debut novel from a 20-year-old Nigerian-born Cambridge student is sure to garner attention for its precocity and literary self-consciousness. The sensitive protagonist, Jessamy Harrison, born to a British father and Nigerian mother, writes haikus and reads Shakespeare, but regularly throws tantrums and avoids social interaction both at school and at home. As an intervention, her parents take her to stay with family in Nigeria for the summer. At her grandfather's compound, she encounters TillyTilly, a mysterious girl who seems to know everything about Jess and who, Jess realizes, is not visible to anyone else. In Nigeria with TillyTilly, Jess finds a sense of belonging and intimacy for the first time, but when Jess returns to England, TillyTilly becomes less comforting and more troublesome. In confident, heavily stylized prose, Oyeyemi illustrates Jess's cultural dislocation, using both Nigerian and Christian imagery to evoke a sense of her unreality. As sophisticated as she is, Jess's eight-year-old observations provide a limited lens, and at times, the novel's fantasy element veers into young adult suspense territory. Agent, Robin Wade. (June)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"The Icarus Girl is an astonishing achievement." Sunday Telegraph (London)
"Oyeyemi brilliantly conjures up the raw emotions and playground banter of childhood....A masterly first novel." The New York Times Book Review
"Oyeyemi writes about childhood as if she were not inventing but truly remembering it, not through the distancing lens of time, but as scary and magical as it really was." San Francisco Chronicle
"Remarkable....As original as it is unsettling, The Icarus Girl runs straight at the heart of what it means to belong." O, The Oprah Magazine
"[The Icarus Girl] provides evidence of a vivid imagination capable of moving freely between cultures and continents....Haunting and suspense-filled." The Washington Post Book World
"[E]choes of both Henry James and Stephen King....Related entirely from Jess's perspective, the book perfectly captures the fear and confusion of a child....Oyeyemi is a talent to watch." School Library Journal
"[T]his ambitious psychodrama becomes repetitive in structure and can't always sustain the adult tone." Kirkus Reviews
"Oyeyemi subtly weaves together Nigerian myth and a classic doppelganger tale to create a sensitive and precocious debut." Booklist
Jessamy Jess Harrison, age eight, is the child of an English father and a Nigerian mother. Possessed of an extraordinary imagination, she has a hard time fitting in at school. It is only when she visits Nigeria for the first time that she makes a friend who understands her: a ragged little girl named TillyTilly. But soon TillyTilly's visits become more disturbing, until Jess realizes she doesn't actually know who her friend is at all. Drawing on Nigerian mythology, Helen Oyeyemi presents a striking variation on the classic literary theme of doubles both real and spiritual in this lyrical and bold debut.
About the Author
1. Jessamy Harrison has a Nigerian mother and an English father. How important is Jesss mixed race? How important are these two very different cultures to her?
2. What is the significance of the “long-armed woman” who appears in Jesss dreams? What does she mean when she says “We are the same”?
3. Jess readily accepts TillyTillys ability to alter Jesss reality. Is TillyTilly a ghost, a demon, Jesss alter ego as Dr. McKenzie suggests, or something else?
4. How successful is Helen Oyeyemi at capturing the voice, thoughts and fears of a troubled eight-year-old?
5. Jesss grandfather tells her “Two hungry people should never make friends.” What does he mean? How important is Jesss grandfather to her?
6. The ibeji statues “aid” of Jess in the Bush does not constitute a victory for Jess and Fern. What do you think happens at the end of the novel?
(Questions and content courtesy of Nan A. Talese/Doubleday.)