Ikenga by Nnedi Okorafor

Ikenga by Nnedi Okorafor, Viking (an imprint of Penguin Random House), 9780593113523, 2020 

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

Format: Hardcover

Genre: Fantasy

What did you like about the book?  Nnamdi’s beloved father, the chief of police in Kaleria, Nigeria, has been murdered. The obvious culprit is the Chief of Chiefs, head of the Kaleria underworld, who attends the funeral with his crew of low-lifes, including Mama Go-Slow, Never Die, Mad Market and Three Days Journey. Even though he’s only 12, Nnamdi is determined to find out who is responsible and take revenge. Then exactly one year later, he meets his dead father on a dark, dirt road and receives an ikenga from him: an Igbo shrine of great power, which has the ability to turn Nnamdi into a Hulk-like supercreature. Thus endowed and cursed, aided by his best friend Chioma, he tracks down the crooks one by one, drawing ever closer to the mystery of his father’s death. 

There was a lot to take in and enjoy in Ikenga, which promises to be the first in a series. I learned about life in contemporary Nigeria, from food and clothing to houses and transportation. The pacing is fast but doesn’t feel frantic; the friendships are heartfelt and the adventures exciting. Nnamdi loves the Hulk, and while it helps to have at least passing familiarity with Bruce Banner, you can enjoy the story without it. It’s definitely violent and occasionally gruesome, which makes it seem like it’s pitched more toward the upper grades of middle school. I liked that Nnamdi’s best friend was a girl and that she turned out to have a few skills of her own that help save the day.

Anything you didn’t like about it? The ending was abrupt and out-of-the blue, although I liked that the obvious villain didn’t turn out to be the murderer. I thought the cover art was a bit off as the character looks younger than 12 and worry that this might be a turn off for potential readers.

To whom would you recommend this book?  Fans of Akata Witch and Warrior will enjoy this book, which is longer on action and thinner on folklore. While it doesn’t have the snarky, jokey tone of the Percy Jackson books, fans of those books who like the idea of an authentic Nigerian setting should try this. 

Who should buy this book? Middle school and public libraries.

Where would you shelve it? Fiction

Should we (librarians/readers) put this on the top of our “to read” piles? Yes. I’m interested to see the next installment.

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

Date of review: August 30, 2020


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