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Review: The Door of No Return


TW: Violence, descriptions of the slave trade, mention of rape

“Black history began way before 1619. It didn't start on the banks of the James River in Jamestown, Virginia, or in dilapidated cabins clustered on the Monticello plantation. Africa was our genesis... Every story has a beginning, a middle, and an end. I wrote this one because people need to know that the middle was not our beginning. I wanted to speak the truth about the history of African Americans, because while most of us are aware of the American part, it's time for us to know more about the African part." - Kwame Alexander, in the acknowledgements section at the end of The Door of No Return

This is a middle grade historical fiction story written in a lyrical verse - and I loved it so much. Sometimes a novel written basically in all poetry can be really overwhelming &/or feel overly complicated, but this book absolutely flowed. Nothing about it felt disjointed or confusing, as it reads very much like prose.

The year is 1860 and Kofi Offin is a young boy living in the Asante kingdom (present-day Ghana). He's doing all the normal young boy stuff - going to school, being annoyed by his teacher and bullied by his cousin, having a crush, playing with his best friend, and swimming - his favorite activity. In fact, he is named after the Offin River, which flows through his village. Kofi has been warned his whole life - by his parents, older brother, and grandparents - not to go to the river after dark, for fear of monsters. One day, of course, he ends up near the water after dark, and is taken, along with his brother, by monsters he could never have imagined.

Kofi is vibrant and clever, and fun to read. The story is told from his perspective, and Alexander expertly captures the voice of an 11-year old without the writing itself feeling juvenile in any way. His brother is relatable - in that big brother way of loving his younger sibling and also being annoyed by him. Kofi is also close to one grandfather, whose beautiful, traditional Asante tales sit at the beginning of each new chapter.

The story goes quickly and I was sad to see it end. The good news is it's the first of a planned trilogy!! I can't wait to read more of Alexander's quick wit and impactful lyricism.


UP NEXT: Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac, by Gabrielle Zevin

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