Ikenga, by Nnedi Okorafor

Ikenga, by Nnedi Okorafor (Penguin Random House August 2020) is a gripping fantasy set in modern Nigeria.  Anyone who likes stories of real-world kids dealing with extraordinary powers and the extraordinary responsibilities that come with them will love this one!

Nnamdi's father was the chief of police of the town of Kalaria, a man determined to rid the town of the criminals that were basically running the place.  When he is murdered, Nnamdi is sure the most powerful of the criminals, dubbed the Chief of Chiefs, is responsible.  Nnamdi wants justice for his father, but what can a 12 year old boy do?

Then his father's spirit appears to him, and hands him an Ikenga, a small statue full of power.  The Ikenga gives Nnamdi the chance to carry on his father's mission to end the crime wave destroying Kalaria, and  bring down the Chief of Chiefs.  When he is angry, the Ikenga transforms into a giant shadow man of tremendous strength, and the criminals give him many opportunities to be angry.  Soon several are behind bars, but the Man, as the shadow being is known, becomes himself the object of fear--Nnamdi as the Man is violent, and almost kills several criminals.  Nnamdi is horrified by this violence, and by what worse things his alter ego might do, but he has so much anger he doubts his ability to stay in control.

The stress of this situation drives a wedge between him and his best friend, Chioma, but fortunately, when he is honest with her, this heals, and she's able to help him in both confronting criminals, and solving the mystery of who killed his father. 

This is in large part a superhero story (Nnamdi is himself a big fan of comic book heroes, and compares the Man to the Incredible Hulk).  But Nnamdi is not just a superpowered fighter for justice.  He's a grieving and confused kid, struggling to do the right thing, and confronting injustice and corruption as best he can.  As a result, there's lots of emotional heft to the story, alongside the "ka-pow" action and adventure.

It's also a lovely visit to Nigeria, with lots of details about the town and daily life.

nb: Ikenga is eligible for the Cybils Awards, and has not yet been nominated!  (any one can nominate books in a range of childrens/YA categories, including Elementary/Middle Grade speculative fiction, where Ikenga belongs!)

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