The Icarus Girl by Helen Oyeyemi

Got to say, this book creeped me out. Not so much that I stopped reading it, but sometimes I didn’t necessarily feel like carrying on reading it because I was feeling all spooked and, as a result of that, a bit irritated. But it’s a well written, imaginative book and well worth reading if you like a bit of haunting to spice up your life.

The central character is an eight-year-old girl called Jessamy Harrison, who has an English father and a Nigerian mother. Jess is a strange, lonesome little girl who spends most of her time dreaming, drawing, writing or sitting in the airing cupboard. She has inexplicably frightening screaming fits and breaks into fevers for no apparent reason. As a result of her strange behaviour, she has no friends at school and she leads a lonely life.

She goes with her parents on holiday to Nigeria to her mother’s family and there, in an abandoned building in the family compound, she meets a little girl her age called Titiola. Tillytilly, as Jess calls her, seems to understand her and at last Jess feels as though she has a friend. But the friend is weird…and, boy, is she weird.

She turns up in England once Jess is back home and slowly Jess realises that Tillytilly is not real – she is able to move through walls, appear anywhere she wants to, and make people do things. However, everything she does to other people hurts them. Tillytilly starts manipulating Jess to hurt people around her, people she loves, so much so that Jess’ mother starts to be scared of her.

Jess’s world is shattered when Tillytilly tells her that Jess had a twin who died at birth and, armed with this knowledge, Tillytilly is further able to manipulate Jess to act like horrid, bitchy little girl, performing cruel and evil deeds on other people.

The bits I found really creepy are when Tillytilly possesses Jess’s body – the descriptions of how Jess feels when Tillytilly has come into her body are horrendous; my body ached when I read those bits. Jess becomes desperate and tries to tell her parents about how she feels and what Tillytilly does to her, but they seems to be unable to help her until the climax at the end.

This story shows us the contrast between ancient Nigerian beliefs and rituals and the complications of life for a little girl in modern-day England. It highlights the uncertainties of race, colour and identity and the loneliness that can be experienced in life.

I certainly have never read anything quite like it and it is impressive for a first-time author.

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Author: Nella

Passionate reader, sometime writer, part-time librarian. I couldn't survive without books. And, I suppose, my children. Or my cats. Or my dog. I read books and look after others.

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