Ikenga by Nnedi Okorafor (9780593113523)
Nnamdi’s father was chief of police in Kalaria, constantly rooting out illegal activity. After his murder, the criminals got more and more bold. Nnamdi had to witness one of the worst criminals, the Chief of Chiefs, attend his father’s funeral. When his father appears to him in a vision, he gives Nnamdi an ikenga, a magical statue. The statue imbues Nnamdi with super powers, transforming him into a fighter for justice, huge like the Incredible Hulk with a deep voice and superhuman strength and speed. Now Nnamdi has the power to continue his father’s work and find who murdered him. But the powers are difficult to control, feeding off of Nnamdi’s growing rage at his father’s death and his family’s poverty and loss. He knows he can use them to do good, sometimes though the powers take control and he ends up hurting people. It’s up to Nnamdi to discover a way to use his powers and solve the murder without losing himself along the way.
Okorafor is the author of the Akata series for teens. This is her first middle grade novel. She does it so well that I hope that she does more. Set in modern Nigeria, the novel gives young readers a glimpse of a country rarely shown in American children’s books. Okorafor crafts a rich setting for readers, really integrating the setting deeply into the story itself. Her plotting and pacing are marvelous too, creating moments of wild rage and action alongside more mundane day-to-day life which is then turned upside down by the magic of the criminals.
Nnamdi is a complex hero. Interested in comics himself, it’s great to see him become his own hero through a thoroughly Nigerian process. While he compares closely to the Hulk when he is transformed, he is also his own being, struggling with control. One of the best parts of the book is that the villainous criminals have layers too, which will surprise readers as they are revealed.
Super heroes, Nigeria, magic and adventure make for a unique and splendid read. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from library copy.