Review of ZAHRAH THE WINDSEEKER by NNEDI OKORAFOR-MBACHU
This book echoes with a universal theme in young adult literature: “I don’t belong.” The fourteen-year-old protagonist Zahrah already feels like an outsider because of her hair. She has what are called dadalocks, clumps of hair with vines woven into them. While those born dada are rumored to be very wise that doesn’t keep Zahrah’s peers from mocking her for being different. Only her friend Dari appreciates her uniqueness and when Zahrah discovers she can levitate, he pushes her to dangerous means for developing her gift.
Zahrah is a likable, relatable character. While she isn’t devoid of typical teenage insecurities, she doesn’t let them overpower her. She repeatedly impressed me with her determination and perseverance, especially in seemingly hopeless situations. Her friendship with Dari is also a literary rarity and I enjoy stumbling across less common relationship dynamics; their extreme closeness never spills over into romance, despite the fact that they’re both straight and unattached.
The trappings of this story are incredible. Zahrah lives in a world where technology and nature don’t fall into opposite categories. Most technology comes in the form of some type of plant. She even grew her own computer! Then there are the off-limits places that teenagers Zahrah and Dari, of course, sneak into: the Dark Market and the Forbidden Greeny Jungle. These locations are both swollen with the author’s inventive creations from the peppers you can buy in the Dark Market that make you more popular to the meat-eating hummingbirds in the Forbidden Greeny Jungle.
Okorafor-Mbachu demonstrates remarkable restraint in her use of magic. Zahrah’s only power is levitation and, as she’s a beginner, she can’t even rise notably high or move in any direction other than up. Cool by its magical nature, but there’s not a whole lot she can do with that power. While her talent is an interesting twist and a significant part of Zahrah’s identity, she doesn’t use it as a crutch. What’s really impressive about her is her wit and her resilience, which save her life far more often than any superpower.
While the prevalent theme of feeling like an outsider is pretty much standard for young adult literature, the intricacies of this book make it a rewarding and unique read. Every few pages, the reader discovers more imaginative creatures and objects to tantalize their mind and it’s nearly impossible not to invest in Zahrah’s bravery.