I’m always excited to get my hands on a novel that falls into the New Adult category. “New Adult” is the little known label for books that chronicle the experiences of those who are post high school/secondary education age, and trying to figure out their next step in the world.
I’d certainly put Binti in this category. Binti is just like any other young girl heading off to university. She is nervous about leaving her family, anxious about breaking with tradition, but also excited to explore her new opportunities. The only difference is that, for Binti, new opportunities means a new planet. Binti is one of the few people to have been accepted at Oomza University, at the other side of the galaxy, and she is certainly one of the first of the Himba people to leave their tribe. It is just not done, and these monumental firsts play with Binti’s emotions. Of course, when the ship that she is on is suddenly commandeered by an alien, and apparently hostile race, the Meduse, Binti’s situation take a turn for the worse.
Binti is a novella. It is a glimpse of a bigger world, but it is a glimpse so rich and bright that you become wholly immersed in it when reading. I always say this about Okorafor’s writing, but it bears repeating. She has the talent of achieving her world-building while developing her plot. The tendency sci-fi and fantasy novels have to “pause” the plot, while they get their world-building underway is what made me reluctant to read them in the past. With Okorafor this is not the case, and it makes the story all the more realistic.
Binti is a compelling heroine. The general trepidation that young adults feel upon leaving their old world and entering a new one are drawn against a grander background here, but still feel very real and immediate. Binti’s journey of finding herself, of identifying her strengths and weaknesses involve navigating the politics between the people of her planet and the Meduse.
Binti’s anxieties about belonging are also realistically explored. She leaves for Oomza University with the knowledge that in doing so, she is essentially severing her connection to her family and her community. As she is of the Himba people, she has a significant connection to the soil she was born on. It is the practice of the Himba people to cover themselves in otjize paste, a mixture that includes soil from their land. In leaving her place of birth Binti loses this literal connection to her land. This was quite heartbreaking to read, but it’s also interesting to see how Binti tries to accommodate this drastic change in her life.
Binti is intelligent and resourceful, but her confidence and maturity really develop throughout the arc of the story.
I would certainly recommend this novel to everyone. Okorafor’s writing is masterful – it is skilled, but is never bogged down in overwrought descriptions. She is a great storyteller, and I can guarantee she will be able to draw you in. Both sci-fi lovers, and sci-fi noobs (like myself) will enjoy this novel.
For those, who have already read this novel, here are a couple of interviews with Okorafor from 2016: