WAR GIRLS is a brilliantly written science fiction story that immediately captured my attention from the very first page. I quickly found myself completely immersed in the setting and transported to a very different and brutal world where war and survival are the only way of life. Tochi Onyebuchi has written an outstanding story that is based on the Nigerian Civil War that took place in the1960’s and is inspired by his mother’s own stories as a child during that war. WAR GIRLS sheds light on a war that is unfamiliar to many but is described by the author as “perhaps the most painful episode in Nigerian history.” This book is a faced paced, powerful story about two sisters who are separated by war and their struggle to find their way back to each other.
WAR GIRLS takes place in the future and is set in the war-torn country of Nigeria. The book is divided into three parts as it follows the journey of two sisters, Onyii and Ify and is told from the viewpoint of these two main characters. In this YA futuristic science fiction book, the technology is extremely advanced. Extensive networks exist making communication possible without talking as high speed trains roam through the jungle. In this futuristic world wars are fought by giant humanoid robots and soldiers have technologically advanced augmented arms, legs, eyes and brains. Despite all these advances in technology, the country has been ravaged by war as the conflict between Nigeria and Biafra escalates.
Onyii and Ify are sisters and survivors! The year is 2172 and they live in the war torn country of Nigeria after a nuclear war has left the planet uninhabitable. Those fortunate enough have left the planet. The ones left behind are forced to adapt, often sacrificing body parts for bionic limbs and artificial organs in order to survive. The sisters have been living in a secret refugee camp for girls. A camp that is self sufficient and has served as a refuge from the constant fighting. Onyii is sixteen and has experienced the violence of war. She is a warrior and is determined to keep her little sister safe in a dangerous world. Ify is brilliant, always testing her boundaries and often finds herself in trouble. She is treated as an outsider and is frequently ridiculed by the other girls. Ify escapes by using her secret Accent which allows her to join other networks to discover hidden secrets and to satisfy her insatiable quest for knowledge. When the camp is brutally attacked by the Nigerians, the girls are suddenly ripped apart and thrown into the violence of war where they find themselves on opposite sides. The two sisters soon find themselves on two very different paths that could divide them forever.
Ify is taken captive by the Nigerians and is brought to Abuja where in time she begins to thrive. She lives in a world of prosperity. A world where she is no longer considered an outsider and doesn’t have to hide her technological abilities. Her quest for knowledge is rewarded and her Accent is seen as astounding. “Suddenly, it seems like something different, bigger. It’s no longer some tiny sin she has to hide from everyone. It is a technological achievement. It is not a mistake. It is a marvel. It is something to be proud of.” Eventually she is adopted by Daren the soldier who captured her and the two share a very close bond. When war threatens her new home Ify learns secrets that will forever change the way she looks at her relationships.
The attack on the camp leaves Onyii broken in body. Having lost the only home she has known and believing that Ify is dead, Onyii becomes a force to be reckoned with. With her advanced skills as a mech pilot and being fueled by rage and revenge, Onyii quickly becomes the killing machine known as the “Demon of Biafra”, the most feared soldier in the Biafran army. However, as the years go by and the war continues Onyii finds herself empty and lost. “She moves as fast as she does for the thrill. The faster she moves, the more reckless her movements, the more all-engulfing the high...Now, hate or love has nothing to do with it. She needs it.”
With so much separating them can Onyii and Ify overcome the war that divides them? With their journeys filled with so much violence, betrayal and vengeance will they find love in the end? When the dust settles, will they be enemies or sisters?
WAR GIRLS is a brutal, fast paced, action packed story filled with heartbreak and angst and ends with a powerful climax. The main characters are young, strong and well developed. The writing style and changing points of view give voice to the different sides of the conflict, exposing the ugly truths of war and challenging the reader to choose. I found this story to be inspirational, overwhelming and heartbreaking. Agu’s character, along with the other synths in this story, really impacted me in a very emotional way. Agu’s journey with each of the sisters pulled the story together and then in the end left me devastated, highlighting the tragic effects of war on children who are forced to become soldiers. This story is brilliantly written and is a phenomenal futuristic science fiction book that has a unique setting based on a real world tragedy. Although I really didn’t like how the story ended, it takes a realistic view of war and has the reader wondering if anyone really wins when there is so much death, destruction and loss. It’s a compelling story about family, and the powerful bond between sisters. “A word bubbles up into Enyemaka’s consciousness, recovered from the charred and torn wreckage of her memories...A word that fills in the gaps. A word that stays with her as the light in her eyes goes dimmer and dimmer. Sister.” I truly enjoyed reading and experiencing this amazing book and look forward to seeing where Tochi Onyebuchi takes us in his next book.
I would like to thank Razorbill Books, Penguin Teen and BookishFirst for the wonderful opportunity to receive a free advanced copy of this book in exchange for my honest, unbiased review. Much appreciated!