I've always been a fan of Okorafor's works for younger readers, which in my mind encompasses everything from the picture book CHICKEN IN THE KITCHEN to the AKATA WITCH series to the BINTI trilogy, even though these days one can find BINTI in roughly any section of the public library if you consult enough libraries. (In my local library the BINTI series was categorized under two different sections, YA and adult Science Fiction & Fantasy; the library has recently been undergoing genrefication, though, so now the whole series lives together with the adult Fantasy label on its spine.) For those who have been following Okorafor for a while, IKENGA feels in many ways like a return to the shared voice of those earlier works for not-full-grown-adults. The only major difference in tone here is that this book is powered by anger, which is not the only or the primary emotion of either the Binti series or the Akata series. There will be readers who will no doubt find themselves alienated by the rawness of this anger, but a far greater audience will connect with it, I think. And of course Okorafor deftly whips out a great idea or two of what to do with one's anger in order to keep it from destroying both oneself and one's loved ones.
If I have any major beef with this book, it's that it feels SO complete and SO final that it's NOT going to spin off into a series seems like a sad but inevitable reality. I do think that there's a sort of overworked and over-polished sheen to this book, but it's easily got past. Also, I stan Chioma so hard. The world certainly needs some new heroes right now, and Chioma is it. I mean, yeah, the book is mainly about Nnamdi's adventures and struggles, but Chioma is the spectacularly unmagical and somehow fantastically insightful and practical friend who gets. shit. DONE. Three cheers for all of those fictional sidekicks, siblings, and best friends who come raring off the page ready to steal my heart.
I wish I'd been in a better place when I first picked up this book, because it took me a while to get back to it simply because 2020 is pure garbage and I would happily send it back for a full refund, even if it's been in the offing for a long time. So after doing some important reckoning with the state of things and the living nightmare that is (sort-of) lockdown in a state most of the country wanted to sell to Canada as recently as last year, I finished IKENGA and am here to yell at everyone I know about it. Star ratings don't reflect my real feelings, I don't think. It's just a nightmare to try to reduce anything I like down to a scale of five. There need to be more nuances to these scales! More points to these stars! Also, maybe no stars. It's a good book, one I'm glad I stuck my head into, despite reading feeling like an absolutely undeserved luxury just now.