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.
I am going to start at the beginning to make this easier. I bought this novel (and it is signed by the author) 11 years ago. I still have the receipt in the book from Housing Works. I bought it August 15, 2005.
It has been on my to-be-read piles all this time (along with other books I’ve had for years.)
Back when I bought it the synopsis sparked my interest, but for many reasons, procrastination and reading hundreds of other books instead, it fell to the back of the piles.
Recently I did a Top Ten Tuesday list for my friend’s blog, Lazy Book Lovers. That week’s theme was: Top Ten Tuesday! Books That Have Been On Your Shelf (Or TBR) From Before You Started Blogging That You STILL Haven’t Read Yet.
That made me finally read it. But I found I didn’t like it very much. Which is a heartbreaking disappointment. I feel like I should have read it when I first bought it. Sometimes reading a story at a certain point in your life brings out different feeling about it. I might have felt differently 11 years ago, but I will never really know.
To be honest I was expecting something more eerie and supernatural and I ended up bored. I would put it down for days, and now I am 4 books behind on my Goodreads goal.
The thing that made me want to push through and finish was guilt. This book has been collecting dust in my room for a little more than a decade so I felt I owed it something. If I didn’t have this guilt I would have given up sooner and moved on.
So my issues: Which might be somewhat spoiler-ish.
For the most part, with the exception of the last few chapters, it’s from Jess’s point of view. Reading a story from the mind of a child can often be a challenge.
Also, many times when Jess was interacting with Tilly the descriptions were so disjointed that I would have to read a scene several times to understand what was happening or why Tilly was acting so strange. Sometimes Tilly’s behavior made no sense. I never understood her motivations for anything and she was so flip-floppy with her moods I instantly and consistently hated her.
I really wished there were more chapters from the perspective of the adults. Especially the grandfather because I am sure he had the most insight on supernatural ghosts that haunt children who lost a twin.
I was so annoyed that the parents didn’t insist on meeting Tilly and her family. I would tell my daughter that, “Your friend will just have to grow up and get over her ‘shyness’. Therefore you will not see her again until I meet her and her family.” Like their neglect and passiveness on that matter was infuriating.
And didn’t they think it was weird that Tilly would be over playing with their daughter out of nowhere. Like no doorbell rang, no voices of children playing in the house. I know when I was a child, when I played with my cousins or friends, we were a rowdy bunch.
Some positives aspects. I did like Jess’s Nigerian grandfather. There should have been more scenes with him, especially to explain the stories and ghostly presence of Tilly. I also liked the aspects of the story where Jess felt caught between two cultures and trying to understand/identify with them.
There should have been more sessions with the psychologist. Which brings me to how the sleepover with Jess’s friend Shivs should have happened a lot sooner. The story needed some major editing to shape up the pacing. Most of it was slow, then the ending was rushed. I also started to skim because I became so fed up with Tilly’s antics and cryptic words.
2 out 5 ghostly possessions