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The Icarus Girl by Helen Oyeyemi
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The Icarus Girl (2005)

by Helen Oyeyemi

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There was a touch of 'magical realism' about this book, and normally that would put me off right from the start, but in this case once we got to the bit where Jess and her friend TillyTilly are invisible and poking around in the house of the school bully, I was gripped. It didn't matter how improbable the whole thing was, it was top entertainment!

I liked the way the story touched on Nigerian culture, particularly surrounding the birth of twins, however I wish this area had been explored more, rather than the endless stream of supernatural incidents which the book became. ( )
  jayne_charles | Dec 27, 2016 |
this book, and this author, are so good. interesting themes about identity and belonging, but i was especially into the ideas of reality, mythology, and the realm of the mind. there are some things that she brought up that i was looking forward to hearing more about ("Sometimes it can be hard to really love someone or something when you can't see anything of yourself in them" regarding Jesus being depicted as white) that weren't revisited. but i'm not sure that is really a complaint or a lack in this book, that there are so many things she covers, but i think more shows her ability and her knowledge. i'm super impressed by her and am seriously blown away that she was about 18 when she wrote this.

i loved this book from the first page, and wasn't disappointed at any point throughout. ( )
  elisa.saphier | Jan 17, 2016 |
Jessamy Wuraola Harrison is eight, the child of a Nigerian immigrant author, Sarah, and an English accountant father, Daniel. Jess is precocious, intensely verbal and disarmingly sensitive. She is awash with feelings and emotions that she doesn’t understand or even accept. And she can’t even put into words the depths of her fears. So when, while on a visit to her Nigerian grandfather’s compound, she meets a little girl who seems to just ‘get’ her, Jess is understandably delighted and a bit in awe. Moreover, Titiola, who Jess calls TillyTilly, appears to have remarkable powers. TillyTilly can open locked doors, float in the air, appear at an instant and is willing to put her powers to use at Jessy’s behest (even if Jessy doesn’t say she wants this) in order for Jess’s enemies to be ‘got’. When TillyTilly shows up in London after Jess’s Nigerian summer holiday, Jess is at first over the moon. But soon she is a bit frightened at what TillyTilly is capable of. And soon enough, terrified.

Bracketed by sections set in Nigeria, the lengthy middle section of this intriguing novel takes place in London. We follow Jess through her unhappy school year, her tantrums and friendships, and her numerous ‘illnesses’. Clearly something is wrong with Jess, but her parents are at a loss as to what it might be. And while light begins to shine on various areas of her life, the source of Jess’s internal strife remains obscure. This might be an account of childhood mental illness. Or it might be an intrusion into the real world by the not entirely real. Or, it might be ancient Nigerian spirits wreaking havoc.

This is Helen Oyeyemi’s first novel, which was written when she was a teenager. As such, it displays remarkable agility and imaginative power. It may also suffer from a certain degree of exuberance and meandering (in the middle section). But if you set aside the precociousness of the writing, you’ll still be left with a remarkable tale of cross-cultural conflicts and anxieties, and a sensitive treatment of the switchback emotional confusions of childhood. In the end, the reader is left bemused, perhaps, and possibly a bit anxious. But not disappointed. Oyeyemi’s career will be a pleasure to watch develop. Gently recommended. ( )
1 vote RandyMetcalfe | Aug 10, 2015 |
Lovely, creepy ghost story eight-year-old Jess finds herself in when she meets a strange girl while visiting her grandparents and extended family in Nigeria. It turns out that the strange friend she makes also follows her back home, and she finds out more about herself and her friend back in England.

I love Jess, who is one of the best-written small children that I've encountered. She is stubborn, likeable, and complex. I read this more or less in one sitting and found it very worthwhile. I can imagine that it draws heavily on Yoruba traditions, especially those around twins, which, being completely ignorant of them myself, I sadly didn't recognise. ( )
  Mothwing | Feb 15, 2015 |
The Icarus Girl is a strange story about a lonely eight-year-old girl named Jessamy (Jess) who acquires an imaginary friend/double/doppelganger/ghost twin/personal demon/evil spirit she calls TillyTilly. Like most such beings, TillyTilly can be a good companion when she wants to be, but, more often than not, she is jealous and destructive. Lots of mysterious things happen and there is always plenty of screaming when TillyTilly's around. Only Jess can see TillyTilly, and the girl's British father and Nigerian mother believe that Jess does all the bad things she blames on her invisible friend, such as smashing her mother's computer and pushing another girl down the stairs.

I have mixed feelings about this novel, which according to the jacket copy "draws on Nigerian mythology to present a strikingly original variation on a classic literary theme, the existence of 'doubles', both real and spiritual, who play havoc with our perceptions and our lives." I feel sorry for young Jess. TillyTilly is an impossible burden to bear, and Jess's distracted parents are clueless about their daughter's anguish. The writing is generally good, and I particularly liked the descriptions of Jess's mother's family's everyday life in Nigeria (where soft drinks are called "minerals" and a delicacy called "puff-puff" is considered a real treat), but the scenes involving TillyTilly are over-the-top. Despite its literary aspirations, The Icarus Girl is essentially a rewrite of "Living Doll," the Twilight Zone episode in which a character played by Telly Savalas is tormented by his stepdaughter's doll/doppelganger "Talky Tina".

A final note: although the title "The Icarus Girl" implies a story of overreaching ambition and failure, these themes are not present in the book. There are no references to Greek mythology that I could find, either.

I chose this book because I liked the cover, which depicts a young, resolute girl carrying feathered wings. However, unless I'm missing something, the cover, like the title, has nothing to do with the book's content. ( )
1 vote akblanchard | Jan 30, 2015 |
Showing 1-5 of 22 (next | show all)
''The Icarus Girl'' explores the melding of cultures and the dream time of childhood, as well as the power of ancient lore to tint the everyday experiences of a susceptible little girl's seemingly protected life. Deserving of all its praise, this is a masterly first novel -- and a nightmarish story that will haunt Oyeyemi's readers for months to come.
 
As Tilly's visits become more insinuating and her pranks more threatening, the mystery and suspense of the story grow. But as Oyeyemi toys with our perceptions, she also strains credulity and ''The Icarus Girl" gets a bit far-fetched and tedious after a while. It's a beautifully written and hauntingly memorable debut novel that gets mired in mysticism.
added by PhoenixFalls | editThe Boston Globe (Jun 20, 2005)
 
When older writers create child narrators, they often either romanticize childhood as a time when everything seemed possible, or cast it in an obscuring shadow -- "kids can be so cruel to each other" -- from the safety of middle age. But Oyemi writes about childhood as if she were not inventing but truly remembering it, not through the distancing lens of time, but as scary and magical as it really was.
 
How does Oyeyemi the wunderkind measure up to Oyeyemi the novelist? The answer is fitfully and somewhat frustratingly, in a book where potential is more in evidence than execution and where interesting themes never quite overcome rough, awkward prose.
 
It turns out that she herself is the heroine of an unalterable hurt narrative, her tale of herself and her imaginary friend, which twists into a new version of the doppelgänger myth, the myth of the fetch, the fateful twin. It's a story with an eye for the baroque state that childhood can be and on the damage that cultural fracture inflicts on everybody, no matter how young or old.
added by PhoenixFalls | editThe Guardian, Ali Smith (Jan 21, 2005)
 
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Alone I cannot be -
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This is all for Mary Oyeyemi
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 140007875X, Paperback)

Jessamy “Jess” Harrison, age eight, is the child of an English father and a Nigerian mother. Possessed of an extraordinary imagination, she has a hard time fitting in at school. It is only when she visits Nigeria for the first time that she makes a friend who understands her: a ragged little girl named TillyTilly. But soon TillyTilly’s visits become more disturbing, until Jess realizes she doesn’t actually know who her friend is at all. Drawing on Nigerian mythology, Helen Oyeyemi presents a striking variation on the classic literary theme of doubles — both real and spiritual — in this lyrical and bold debut.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:24:57 -0400)

(see all 5 descriptions)

Jessamy "Jess" Harrison, age eight, is the child of an English father and a Nigerian mother. Possessed of an extraordinary imagination, she has a hard time fitting in at school. It is only when she visits Nigeria for the first time that she makes a friend who understands her: a ragged little girl named TillyTilly. But soon TillyTilly's visits become more disturbing, until Jess realizes she doesn't actually know who her friend is at all. Drawing on Nigerian mythology, Helen Oyeyemi presents a striking variation on the classic literary theme of doubles -- both real and spiritual -- in this lyrical and bold debut.… (more)

» see all 5 descriptions

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