Helen Oyeyemi,
The Icarus Girl
(Doubleday, 2005)

Imaginary playmates are not unusual. But, there hasn't been a playmate like TillyTilly since those nasties Henry James created in Turn of the Screw.

And, like them, TillyTilly seems to be something more than what a child has imagined.

Jessamy Harrison, the 8-year-old daughter of a Nigerian mother and British father, is a precocious and lonely child subject to screaming tantrums and panic attacks. During a visit to her Nigerian relatives, Jess explores an abandoned building and meets TillyTilly, a child her own age, whom she befriends. The problem is, no one else can see TillyTilly.

On their return to England, TillyTilly mysteriously shows up and soon leads Jess into a heap of trouble. Fun becomes horror as Tilly demonstrates a penchant for cruelty.

Given that Helen Oyeyemi was only 18 when she penned this complex novel, there are some drawbacks. Jess is often portrayed as much more sophisticated and articulate than the reader can believe, and some characters are not drawn out enough. Despite all that, maturity is certain to give us a writer well worth watching for in the future.

by John R. Lindermuth
29 April 2006

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