The Icarus Girl – a Review
Opobo women and children in Nigeria in the late nineteenth century
Growing up between cultures is hard, even more so when the two cultures are as far apart in distance and tradition as Great Britain and Nigeria. Normal in England is more sterile, more predictable and life is easier. Growing up in England does not prepare a person for the vividness of Nigeria, where myths are an accepted part of reality. Nor does leaving Nigeria prepare a person for what must be left behind in England.
The central theme of The Icarus Girl, by Helen Oyeyemi, seems to western readers to be supernatural. TillyTilly is real, or she is not. There is no in-between. Eight-year-old Jessamy has developed mental issues.
But to readers familiar with the dual worlds of the spirit and the human plane that coexist for so many on the African continent, there will be an immediate recognition that what might seem supernatural in the West is just an extension of the natural; possibilities exist that aren’t as clear cut as healthy thinking on one side and a problem for modern medicine to fix on the other. Jessamy’s problems are not all in her head.
But Jessamy is not the only person caught between two worlds – her mother, trying so hard to assimilate to England and leave the superstitions of her Nigerian upbringing behind – denies the problem until it just may be too late.
The Icarus Girl is a timely peek into the world-between-worlds that third culture children navigate. Unique and engaging, it also stands out for being written when the author was just seventeen-years-old. Seeing both worlds through the eyes of a child who is of both worlds and neither, is almost an explanation.