A review by thebakersbooks
Freshwater, by Akwaeke Emezi

dark emotional hopeful reflective sad slow-paced
  • Plot- or character-driven? Character
  • Strong character development? Yes
  • Loveable characters? Yes
  • Diverse cast of characters? Yes
  • Flaws of characters a main focus? Yes


Akwaeke Emezi's debut novel Freshwater was the perfect book to boost me out of a reading slump. The prose is beautiful, the characters full of energy and detail, the experiences visceral. This is a book of sharp and jagged edges that cut to the emotional quick. I don't have the skill as a reviewer to do this story justice, but I enjoyed it a lot, even the painful parts.

It's odd to call such a dreamlike book relatable, but the main character of Freshwater was easy to connect to even when her specific struggles weren't ones I'd experienced. Ada's exploration of gender and sexuality were particularly special to me as someone with similar experiences. I'd be remiss not to mention that intersections of cultural and sexual/gender identity are unique to those who live them; as a white U.S.ian reader, I'm sure much of the nuance of being Black, Nigerian, an immigrant, etc. AND queer went over my head. That didn't diminish my enjoyment of reading it at all, and I hope will add to the richness of the experience for readers who do share those identities as well.

Freshwater is a short book but not necessarily a quick read; it grapples with a number of serious topics including rape, trauma, and grief. Nevertheless, the hints of magic and myth, whether real or allegorical, add a bit of lightness and much-needed distance from events that happen to Ada. There is joy amidst the pain that overshadows much of Ada's life, and the payoff when she eventually begins to understand herself more and come into her own feels like its own kind of magic. This is a story that will stay with me for a long time, a standout as both a literary work and a fantasy novel. I highly recommend this book to adult readers.

Content notes: accidental child injury (graphic); self-harm throughout; rape; eating disorder/anorexia; abusive relationships; drug use; alcohol addiction; gender dysphoria; outing a trans character; mild/brief homophobia; child sexual assault; suicide attempt

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