War Girls by Tochi Onyebuch

 War Girls by Tochi Onyebuchi, Razorbill (an imprint of Penguin Random House), 9780451481672, 2019 

Rating: 1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 4

Format: Hardcover

Genre: YA dystopian/science fiction

What did you like about the book?  In a future in which climate change and nuclear war have led to a mass exodus to space stations by white Europeans and North Americans, a second civil war rages between Biafra and Nigeria. This war is being fought by child soldiers, augmented with cyborg technology. Onyii is a tough Biafran soldier leading a hidden camp of girl warriors. She’s raising a little sister, Ify, who we come to realize is actually a Nigerian that Onyii has adopted under murky circumstances. The pull and tug of circumstances, morality and technology will divide the two girls and their stories are told in alternating chapters as they survive against all odds. This is a richly imagined world with a unique African setting. Onyebuchi starkly portrays the bloody and tumultuous cost of war and tribal conflict; although the book’s characters are teens, the content, concepts and plot are complex and mature. Although it is slated to be the first in a series, I thought this book stood quite well on its own, with a satisfying arc and conclusion. Another plus: great cover. It’s a very serious and grim book, but also a great example of using science fiction to explore contemporary issues.

Anything you didn’t like about it? There’s a lot of technology in the book, including artificial intelligence, augmented people and futuristic armaments. Unfortunately, I didn’t find the descriptions of the tech to be all that helpful in imagining what it was or how it was used, especially when it came to the various mech suits and devices used by the soldiers. I also could not figure out why some animals had ended up as tech hybrids. The plot could have been streamlined; some character development ended up being sacrificed to make room for long fight scenes that were unnecessary and descended to the Marvel movie level. More time with Onyii, Ify and the synth Agu, would have been appreciated. The fascinating android Enyemaka disappeared halfway through the book; maybe to be reintroduced in the next one?

To whom would you recommend this book?  A good recommendation for readers who have enjoyed books by Tomi Adeyemi (Children of Blood and Bone) or Paolo Bacigalupi (Shipbreaker, The Windup Girl.)  The complexity and historical content make it best for those reading at a very high level.

Who should buy this book? High school and public libraries 

Where would you shelve it? YA, in science fiction if you genre-fy.

Should we (librarians/readers) put this on the top of our “to read” piles? Yes, if you’re looking to expand and diversify your collection.

Reviewer: Susan Harari, Keefe Library, Boston Latin School, Boston, MA

Date of review: November 5, 2019


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