A review by laurenleigh
Freshwater, by Akwaeke Emezi

challenging dark emotional sad medium-paced
  • Plot- or character-driven? Character
  • Strong character development? Yes
  • Loveable characters? It's complicated
  • Diverse cast of characters? Yes
  • Flaws of characters a main focus? It's complicated


I was already amazed by Akwaeke Emezi after reading The Death of Vivek Oji, but I am now in complete awe after reading Freshwater. Emezi is a transcendent author. This semi-autobiographical novel was definitely dark and hard hitting (message me or check out my review on the StoryGraph for content warnings), but there is also so much life and light to be found here. This book gave me valuable insight into neurodivergence and gender exploration, while also teaching me about Igbo ontology. While western medicine would almost certainly diagnose this main character Ada with some kind of psychosis or bipolar disorder, there is an Igbo concept of “ogbanje,” a kind of malevolent spirit that lives inside certain children. Emezi envisions these spirits (who live inside Ada well past puberty) as inner Gods that have passed over from the other side, living inside their human form. Having these multiple selves certainly had a splintering effect on Ada, causing a lot of pain and struggle. But as they grow up, Ada also finds strength in these versions of themselves, learning and relearning their identity in all its multiplicity. As Ada begins to discover more about their Nigerian and Igbo ancestry, they can begin to see their inner demons in another light. I am SO glad the Queer Lit readathon picked this for the group read!

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