The Icarus Girl (2006)
By: Helen Oyeyemi
The Icarus Girl is unexpectedly chilling.
Eight-year-old Jessamy “Jess” Harrison has an English father and a Nigerian mother. She has a creative mind: she befriends an “imaginary friend” named TillyTilly from Nigeria. However, Jess soon learns that her friend isn’t as she appears to be and Jess begins to question TillyTilly’s existence.
Like The Sympathizer, there is a duality in the main character, Jess, as she is bi-racial. Throughout the novel, she struggles with understanding her true identity. Back in England, she associates with her western heritage but when she is in Nigeria, she feels out of place. Her relatives call her a different name that she has yet to accept.
One thing I found interesting about this book is the two main ways you can read the character, TillyTilly. From a modern science and westerner’s perspective, you would assume that TillyTilly is just an imaginary friend that a child would eventually grow out of. Yet, there is also the folklore perspective where Jess befriended an evil spirit or demon child. Although I would have liked to go with the modern science reading, my gut told me to follow the folklore reading. My “logic” was based on the Filipino ghost stories that my mother told me when I was younger. (I followed the gut rather than my brain with this reading.) And I actually was right to do so.
This was Helen Oyeyemi’s debut novel. She wrote this story when she was just nineteen and you can get that “inexperienced” writer vibe from the language and her style of writing. In class, we discussed the genre of this book and I was quick to place this book in the “coming of age” genre /YA novel because of the language. However, the childish writing may not be due to the writer’s inexperience but also the fact that our narrator is an eight-year-old girl.
The Icarus Girl isn’t my type of novel because I don’t like ghost stories but I can see it’s literary value that’s worth talking about.