Sunday, December 31, 2006

The Icarus Girl

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.

Many of the reviews liken this story to those of Stephen King. I have not read his work, so I don't know how accurate that is, but it is indeed haunting.

Is Tilly real? A spirit? An extension of Jess's personality? The creepy ambiguity persists until and beyond the disturbing denouement. Related entirely from Jess's perspective, the book perfectly captures the fear and confusion of a child confronted by inexplicable circumstances...
–Starr E. Smith, Fairfax County Public Library, VA

The book has certainly stayed with me, as the next few days after reading it I would find myself contemplating TillyTilly and wondering just what the ending meant. It's quite ambiguous, but in a good way. You don't quite know what she was, or what happened to Jess, and it's all open to your imagination.

I know this isn't much, but I highly recommend reading it. If not for the story, read it to wonder where the line between reality ends and illusion begins. Read it to see what it's like to be mentally ill. Read it for the wonderful perspective it gives you on things you may not understand.