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The Icarus Girl Paperback – April 11, 2006

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Anchor (April 11, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 140007875X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400078752
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.8 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (37 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #468,935 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The story of a troubled eight-year-old haunted and ultimately possessed by family secrets, this spooky debut novel from a 20-year-old Nigerian-born Cambridge student is sure to garner attention for its precocity and literary self-consciousness. The sensitive protagonist, Jessamy Harrison, born to a British father and Nigerian mother, writes haikus and reads Shakespeare, but regularly throws tantrums and avoids social interaction both at school and at home. As an intervention, her parents take her to stay with family in Nigeria for the summer. At her grandfather's compound, she encounters TillyTilly, a mysterious girl who seems to know everything about Jess and who, Jess realizes, is not visible to anyone else. In Nigeria with TillyTilly, Jess finds a sense of belonging and intimacy for the first time, but when Jess returns to England, TillyTilly becomes less comforting and more troublesome. In confident, heavily stylized prose, Oyeyemi illustrates Jess's cultural dislocation, using both Nigerian and Christian imagery to evoke a sense of her unreality. As sophisticated as she is, Jess's eight-year-old observations provide a limited lens, and at times, the novel's fantasy element veers into young adult suspense territory. Agent, Robin Wade. (June)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From School Library Journal

Adult/High School–This first novel, completed before its author turned 20, uses elements of Yoruba and Western myths to create a tale of psychological horror with echoes of both Henry James and Stephen King. When British academic star Jessamy Harrison is skipped ahead a year in school (to the pride of her English father and Nigerian mother), the nervous eight-year-old finds the change difficult. Unable to make friends or to cope with teasing about her mixed-race status, she breaks down in screaming tantrums and is prey to odd, feverish illnesses. During a family trip to Nigeria, Jess is elated to make her first friend, a fey girl nicknamed TillyTilly who is devoted to her–and who may be invisible. Delight turns to anxiety when Tilly reveals a shocking secret, and then to horror as she demonstrates her capacity for cruel magic. 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, although thinly drawn other characters and a somewhat repetitive structure make it less than a total success. Still, Oyeyemi is a talent to watch.–Starr E. Smith, Fairfax County Public Library, VA
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Customer Reviews

((**No matter what, Ms. Oyeyemi, keep writing!!!**)) A great novel, all around!
The characters, other than the main character, Jessamy, are not nearly developed enough for you to care about them and you also begin to not care about Jessamy.
J. Lessl
A very difficult book for me to finish as I could only read a few pages at a time- I was, however, determined to finish which I did.
Em Granosky

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Eight-year-old Jessamy Harrison, the daughter of a Nigerian mother and a British father, sometimes spends five or more hours hiding motionless in the family's linen closet, attempting to find some sort of "fragile peace." Prone to uncontrollable screaming fits, both at home and at school, she also has high fevers and panic attacks, and often talks to herself. Struggling with obvious emotional problems, Jess is a bright but lonely child, with no friends, a mother who spends most of her time writing, and a father who is away most of the day.

When her mother takes her to Nigeria during a school vacation, she sets in motion a series of events which ultimately leave Jess struggling to hold on to her selfhood. While visiting her Yoruban grandfather, Jess explores an abandoned building and discovers a strange girl her own age secretly living there. Titiola, whom Jess calls TillyTilly, becomes her first true friend, and though Jess explores the countryside with her, no one in her family ever sees her.

When Jess returns to school in England, her friend TillyTilly follows. Jess is delighted at first, but TillyTilly begins to monopolize her time, deliberately breaking things in the house, "getting" people who make Jess unhappy, and causing accidents. Jess's parents become alarmed at the havoc, especially when Jess insists that it is caused by her mysterious, unseen friend. Then TillyTilly reveals a family secret, and the battle begins in earnest for possession of Jess's soul.

Nigerian author Helen Oyeymi, who wrote this book when she was eighteen, incorporates aspects of Nigerian culture when Jess returns to Nigeria on a second visit.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Steve Koss VINE VOICE on February 5, 2006
Format: Hardcover
According to the book jacket, author Helen Oyeyemi was born in Nigeria, lived in London since the age of four, and completed THE ICARUS GIRL before age nineteen. Given her wealth of life experience, she naturally wrote about what she knew: an eight-year-old girl of mixed English/Nigerian heritage, daughter of a biracial couple, whose life changes irremediably subsequent to her first visit to her African homeland. Drawing upon mythical elements of Nigerian spiritualism and the Yoruba language, Ms. Oyeyemi has written an African inspired version of Tom Tryon's 1971 book, THE OTHER, a psychological thriller with elements of gothic horror.

While Ms. Oyeyemi offers a hopeful new literary voice, her first book is a mixed bag. Her descriptions of the main character, eight-year-old Jessamy, and Jess's confusions about growing up, dealing with her parents, and coping with her uncontrollable compulsions and the sheer surreality of her spirit companion TillyTilly are believable. However, most of her supporting cast is remarkably flat, most egregiously Jess's Nigerian mother Sarah Harrison and her white, English father Daniel. Well intentioned in their introduction of Jess to her mother's African family, Sarah and Daniel revert in England to being among the most singularly distant, disinterested, and obtuse parents ever written into fictional life. Following their return from Nigeria to England, Jessamy nosedives into various states of hysteria and violence that evoke little more from her mother than ever more concerted efforts at her own children's writing; she gets even less response from her father. Jess's teachers, her classmates, and her psychologist, Dr. McKenzie, are nearly as flat, as are most of her African family.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Luan Gaines HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on August 2, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Eight-year old Jessamy Harrison has never been like the other girls at her school in Bromley, England. Daughter of a Nigerian mother and a British father, Jessamy is gifted, difficult, even peculiar, given to screaming tantrums and strange, febrile fevers. Jess spends hours alone, reading and drawing, seemingly content in her own company. Early in the novel, the family visits Nigeria, where a bevy of aunts, uncles and cousins await and, most significantly, her maternal grandfather, who believes in the ancestral ways but is a devout Christian. It is on this visit that the solitary Jessamy meets a new friend in an abandoned building, Titiola, whom she calls TillyTilly. Jess is delighted to have a playmate, drawn into the intimacies of young girls sharing secrets. Titiola's true identity is unclear until the family returns home, where she appears once more.

TillyTilly knows all of Jess's secrets, the girls at school who ridicule her difference and lack of social skills, anyone who disturbs or makes Jess angry. But eventually Jessamy realizes that no one can see her new friend; she is invisible. It is at this point that the novel shifts from fiction to fable. Is this girl a figment of Jessamy's imagination, a panacea for her emotional turmoil, or is there a darker source, in the roots of African folklore, where spirits have the power to enter the physical realm? As the disturbing incidents increase and Jess realizes she can't control TillyTilly's appearance or her actions, fear presides, those closest to Jessamy affected by the sinister presence of this sister-friend who does or doesn't really exist. The tale beings to make sense when Jessamy's parents take her to a therapist. It is through the girl's response to Doctor McKenzie that the real image of this tormented child takes shape.
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