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The Icarus Girl    by Helen Oyeyemi order for
Icarus Girl
by Helen Oyeyemi
Order:  USA  Can
Nan A. Talese, 2005 (2005)
* *   Reviewed by J. A. Kaszuba Locke

Eight-year old Jessamy Harrison lives in England with her British father and Nigerian mother. Believing a change of scenery would benefit Jess's health and demeanor, the family travels to Nigeria to visit maternal relatives. Jessamy's name in the Yoruban language is Wuraola, meaning gold.

When Jess notices a soft light coming from an abandoned building on the property, she's told that great-grandfather built the compound for servants in time past. That night she enters the building, and finds the words 'Hello Jessy' written on a dust-laden tabletop. No one has ever addressed her by that name. A girl appears and identifies herself as Titiola, nicknamed TillyTilly by Jess, who senses that her newfound friend is different. When they visit a closed amusement park, Tilly opens the locked gates by stretching out her arms - 'The gates went backwards with a gust of warm air, and the padlocks fell to the ground'.

The Harrisons return to their home in Kent, as Jess prepares to settle in year five at school. Jessamy's behavior continues to be erratic and odd. There are screaming spells, she's solitary, friendless, and bullied by classmates. Within months, TillyTilly appears on Jess's English doorstep, explaining that her family has moved into the neighborhood, but strangely Jess never gets to meet them. Jess discovers that Tilly is only visible to her, and at times, feels that Tilly is 'someone else', perhaps the long-armed woman in the drawing she saw in a Nigerian abandoned building.

Tilly reveals that Jessy is a twin of a stillborn child, and that she wants to be the sister that Jess never knew. The news propels Jess into a tantrum, as her parents try to explain why they never told her of her twin, Fern. Mom's reaction to Jess learning of the twin, brings the reaction, 'Three worlds! Jess lives in three worlds. She lives in this world, and she lives in the spirit world, and she lives in the Bush. She's 'abiku', she always would have known!' Jess begins to see that Tilly is not the good friend that she once thought. Tilly gets Colleen McLain, Jess's taunting classmate; causes Shivs (short for Siobhan) to fall down a flight of stairs, and Jess's dad becomes very ill.

Helen Oyeyemi incorporates in The Icarus Girl Nigerian mythology that twins are doubles, real and spiritual, and of three worlds - this world, the Spirit World, and the Bush, i.e. 'a wilderness of the mind'. I saw it as two sides of a coin - naughty and nice. Though I consider Oyeyemi a gifted writer and enjoyed her lyrical prose, I had difficulty deciphering where the story was headed, specifically the intent of the parallel to Nigerian folklore. Her creation ultimately left me puzzled, with incomplete events, and an unsatisfying ending.

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