Wednesday, July 27, 2022

Children of the Quicksands

Traoré, Efua. Children of the Quicksands
July 26th 2022 by Chicken House
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Simi's parents are recently divorced, so when her pharmacist mother is too busy with work to watch her in Lagos, Nigeria over the summer, she decides to send Simi to spend two months with the grandmother she has never met. Iyanla (who doesn't like to be called "grandmother" because it makes her feel like she's "back at the white man's school), lives in Ajao, a small village in the jungle that does not have all of the amenities that Simi is used to back home. Her grandmother is a healer, and spends her days helping others in her community with various issues. One of Simi's first tasks is to do a short distance from Iyanla's house to pick a few ube, but she is enthralled by a bird that she sees, and follows it into the jungle, despite Iyanla's warnings that this is very dangerous. She gets sucked into quicksand, which pulls her through into another world! She sees children there, but they don't see her, and she manages to get back to Ajao. She doesn't tell her grandmother about this adventure. She meet Jide, the son of the chief, who works often with Iyanla. Jide, who goes by Jay, makes fun of her for being soft and citified, even though he spends most of his time at boarding school in Lagos himself. The chief is concerned that a girl has gone missing, and takes this matter up with Iyanla, who is a priestess of Oshun. Simi is skeptical at first, but the more she learns about Oshun and the lake dedicated to the goddess, the more the story rings true. Every ten years, a child is taken by the goddess, which upsets the community. After her experiences with the quicksand, Simi has reason to doubt this. This is also part of the reason that Simi's mother hasn't spoken to Iyanla; there is sad family history related to this event. When a village girl Simi has befriended, Bubu, goes into a trance, the village decides to fill the lake with sand so that Oshun can't claim any more children. Iyanla doesn't think this is the answer, but Simi and Jay are sent back to Lagos because of the threat. Simi is bored staying at her father's apartment, and isn't too fond of his new girlfriend. She meets up with Jay, and they decide they must travel back to Ajao to save the lake. Will they be able to help Iyanla defend her goddess?
Strengths: Simi is a great character; she doesn't really know any other way of life than that in her city apartment with an overprotective mother, but she embraces her grandmother's way of life without too much complaint, and is quick to try and help out. So many stories about children who have to spend time somewhere else involve so much whining, and while Simi isn't all that thrilled to be in Ajao, she really makes an effort to appreciate a different lifestyle. There are lots of good details about every day life with Iyanla, and Jay is a good guide for her, since he has spent much more time in Ajao but understands Simi's perspective. The magic is part of every day life, and Iyanla has a lot of rules concerning it that Simi doesn't quite understand, which leads to a few critical adventures, like her trip into the quicksand world. 
Weaknesses: I always have a little trouble believing when children are sent off to stay with grandparents they have never met. It seemed more logical that Simi would have stayed with her father, but then there wouldn't have been a story!
What I really think: It's great to finally see fantasy books that aren't all based in Celtic and Welsh mythology. There are at least three other fantasy books just with Nigerian cultural connections, and many others from different countries in Africa. This is great, since I have a fair number of students with Nigerian backgrounds who have enjoyed Okorafor's Ikenga, Davies' Minecraft: The Haven Trials, and Perry's  Cameron Battle and the Hidden Kingdoms.

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