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Read Harder Challenge #15: Zahrah the Windseeker & Read Harder Challenge #16: Josephine

Posted about 8 months ago by Jennifer Deuell

Prompt #15: A book of mythology or folklore

Zahrah the Windseeker, by Nnedi Okorafor, is a fantasy novel rooted in West African folklore.  Thirteen year-old Zahrah lives in northern Ooni Kingdom. Here, all technology is grown from plants.  The people sew mirrors their clothing and are obsessed with outward appearances. They are also afraid of anything unusual or unknown.

This presents a problem for Zahrah as she was born Dada.  This means that she has the tell-tale dadalocks, which grow vines along with her hair.  She also possesses secret powers such as the ability to fly. The only one not afraid of Zahrah is her friend Dari, who encourages her to practice and cultivate her special abilities.

One day, Zahrah and Dari venture into the Dark Greeny Jungle, a place they are forbidden to go.  Guided by Dari’s prized digibook, the two begin to explore; however, when Dari is bitten by a snake, only Zahrah is brave enough to travel through the jungle and find the antidote.  Along the way she encounters many majestic (and sometimes dangerous) creatures and fauna.

This book was a very fun read!  Okorafor draws on Nigerian culture to not only paint the landscape of the novel but also the tone.  This was a book where I felt very immersed in the setting and could easily conjure up images of the people.  There is some darkness in the story but it is well balanced with light. In my opinion, it leans more toward the middle school end of YA.  I also found it interesting that all technology was made from plants. Even though this book was written in 2005, I think this struggle between nature and technology is still pertinent and even more relevant today.  I will say that the folklore piece was a bit lost in the fantasy of the story. I would have liked that to be better emphasized and connected to Zahrah’s journey. Overall it was an enjoyable read.

Here are some other suggestions that will satisfy this prompt:

Abandon by Meg Cabot

A Song for Ella Grey by David Almond

The Hidden Oracle by Rick Riordan

The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater

The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi

Forest of a Thousand Lanterns by Julie Dao

Bull by David Elliott

The Girl the Sea Gave Back by Adrienne Young

Lovely War by Julie Berry

Also, here are Book Riot’s suggestions for this prompt.

Prompt #16: An historical romance by an AOC

Wow, is it hard to find a YA historical romance written by an author of color!  Publishers, authors, if you are reading this, this is a big need in the YA publishing world!  After much research, I came across Josephine, by Beverly Jenkins.  What I did not know at the time, is that Josephine  is a follow-up to Jenkins’ Belle; however, readers can safely start with Josephine as they are set in the same world but follow different characters.  

This novel is set in the free state of Michigan during the Civil War.  Josephine is a seventeen year-old college educated business owner. She was brought up in a family that encouraged critical thinking and independent living…in both men and women.  It is not surprising that Jo has no intentions of marrying. Why would she when she provides everything she needs for herself? But, when her brother’s childhood friend Adam returns injured from the war, he immediately ignites something in Jo which she cannot ignore.  Adam’s suave demeanor, and Jo’s headstrong will, provide the opportunity for quite a humorous love affair!

The fact that this story was from the point of view from a free black woman living during the time of the civil war really drew me.  I don’t feel like this is a point of view often taken in YA historical fiction so I give Jenkins major points for taking that on. I loved that Jo was spunky, smart, stubborn, sweet, and straightforward.  You all know, I love a strong female lead. However, in this case I felt that Jo and Adam’s characters were a little too stock. The novel was predictable and lacked and real crisis or climax. The story was sweet, and if you’re looking for a short, easy read, Josephine is that.  But if you’re like me and you need a bit more to get invested in your reads, I’d pass this one up.

Here are a few other suggestions:

Out of the Darkness by Ashley Hope Pérez

Alex and Eliza by Melissa de la Cruz

An Extraordinary Union by Alyssa Cole

Forbidden by Beverly Jenkins

 Everything Begins and Ends at the Kentucky Club by Benjamin Alire Sáenz

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz

The Japanese Lover by Isabel Allende

Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel, translated by Thomas Christensen and Carol Christensen

Here are Book Riot’s suggestions.



About the Author

Jenn Deuell is the Young Adult Coordinator with Richmond Public Library. She is a native of Fredericksburg, VA but has lived in Richmond for long enough that she now considers it home. She loves all things YA and can usually be found curled up at home with a good book (rainy day or not). Her other hobbies include traveling and spending time with family, including her three rescued pit bulls.

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