Top critical review
A dark super hero origin story
Reviewed in the United States on April 21, 2021
From Wikipedia: 'Ikenga (Igbo literal meaning "strength of movement") is a horned Alusi found among the Igbo people in southeastern Nigeria. It is one of the most powerful symbols of the Igbo people and the most common cultural artifact. Ikenga is mostly maintained, kept or owned by men and occasionally by women of high reputation and integrity in the society. It comprises someone's Chi (personal god), his Ndichie (ancestors), aka Ikenga (right hand), ike (power) as well as spiritual activation through prayer and sacrifice.'
When the books begins, 12 y.o. Nnamdi is at his father's funeral. His father was the best police chief the city ever had, and he has been murdered. Everybody believes his killer is the Chief of Chiefs, local leader of a terrifying gang of criminals. So when he and his collection of criminals shows up at the funeral, offering money to the widow, Nnamdi and his mother are outraged, insulted, and impotent to do anything about it. The boy wants to take revenge for the murder but to his horrified shame, urinated on himself instead, protected by discovery because of his funeral attire.
A year later his father's murder is still unsolved. Twelve year old Nnamdi burns with the injustice, and his inability to bring the killer to justice.
He meets his father's ghost and is given an ikenga. He discovers the figure allows him to become a shadowy black giant of a man with superhuman size and strength, much like his favourite comic book hero, the Hulk. Also, much like the hulk, his alter ego is fueled by rage and he struggles to fight for control and a balance between fighting for justice and protecting the innocent vs letting loose in unbridled rage upon the targets of his fury, who aren't even always criminals.
He has a solid set of friends, including the girl he grew up with, the most solid bestie ever, who sometimes help and sometimes inadvertently push him to the edge.
He sets out to solve the mystery of his father's murder and take down his father's killer, but things are not always what they seem, he learns to his surprise.
Written by the daughter of Nigerian immigrants to the U.S., she gives a good sense of the place and culture of Nigeria.
This aspect of the story was well done.
I liked the relationship between Nnamdi and his best friend. I liked the garden and the purpose it serves in Nnamdi's life. I loved his love and admiration for his father, a truly good man.
I found the solution to the mystery unsatisfying, and no real clues or evidence for either the elimination of other suspects or the discovery of the murderer were part of the story.
I was particularly dissatisfied by the dark and joyless tone throughout the story. There is no joy here. No laughter. Probably that's not the story the author wanted to tell, but I was looking for a middle reader story which included, at least sometimes, a black boy having an adventure, or at least occasionally just having fun with his friends. This story just felt dark and heavy all the way through. Literally one moment was even mildly amusing, when the criminal kingpin tells Nnamdi that comic books aren't real books.
The author mostly, though not always, avoids overt moralising. One particular paragraph of dialogue towards the end unfortunately baldly states all the lessons the lessons learned for the benefit of the reader, a clunky bit of telling rather than showing.
Content warnings for my typical audience- the only character identified as Christian is crazy and annoying.
There are a few mild swear words and one use of profanity, G**D*** from a 12 y.o. in a moment of extreme terror
If you are wanting a serious story with some light moments, this is not it.
If you want a serious story which includes the super hero elements layered throughout with darkness and cloaked in a veil of trauma, this is that book.