You may have heard of Helen Oyeyemi’s most recent book, White is for Witching, as it seems to have begun to make its way round the blogosphere. But it is all checked out at my library. I decided to make a virtue of necessity and read Oyeyemi’s three books in the order she wrote them, starting with The Icarus Girl which, I discovered, she wrote before she was twenty and published when she was twenty-two.
Jessamy Harrison is a lonely little girl trying to find her place. Daughter of a Nigerian mother and a British father, she is never sure exactly where she belongs, and she struggles to make friends as she is a year younger than her classmates. During a visit to her mother’s family in Nigeria, Jess meets a girl of her own age called TillyTilly, who has powers that other people don’t have. As Jess tries to have a normal life back in England, Tilly becomes more and more possessive, and more threatening. It’s all nice and paranormal (paranormal is a word that is not all standards, but has a pleasing symmetry that makes it nearly as good as if it were all standards).
This is a young book – not very introspective, which I suppose is partly because the viewpoint character is only eight. The reader spots Tilly’s menace (all standards!) long before Jess does, but this isn’t handled well. Instead of fearing for Jess, I was frustrated with her. Neither was the supernatural stuff handled well. I’ve said before that I do not mind it in fiction if supernatural occurrences are rather vague – Diana Wynne Jones does this almost every time, for example, to great effect. What I do not like is to have it be vague, vague, vague, and then suddenly, snap, it gets explained and resolved in about two seconds at the end. Which is sort of what happens here.
Oh, dear, I’ve gone and been quite negative, but you see, I’ve only done that because I just finished The Opposite House, and I know how insightful slightly-older Helen Oyeyemi can be, and it’s thrown the flaws of The Icarus Girl (which is quite a good book!) into sharp relief. You see, this is what happens when I put off writing reviews. I read other, better things. Though in the case of Gunnerkrigg Court, I put off writing the review and subsequently discovered the rest of the webcomic and grew to like it better and better. Procrastination: Sometimes it pays.
What you should take away from this is that Helen Oyeyemi is a superb writer, and she’s young and has years and years, books and books, ahead of her, and she is already a strong writer in The Icarus Girl, and she is just going to get better. Read The Icarus Girl at some point, but her second book is more finished and grown-up; and I suspect her third will be even better.
Other reviews by people who have maybe not just read The Opposite House and whose opinions are thus possibly more helpful:
Tell me if I missed yours!