This is actually one of the reasons I wanted us to have a book club anyway: the ensuing discussions! Because of the way we do reviews, we rarely both look over each other’s review before posting and this time Claire was able to respond in her review to a lot of the points I made, but I actually had more things I wanted to discuss in response to her review too. So naturally I bombarded her with messages and she suggested we GO LIVE and post our discussion to the blog because she’s brilliant and we both love a good discussion.
Now, I actually find discussions pretty difficult to write out instead of to just blab verbally, so I’ll do my best. I want this discussion thread to flow as well ass possible too, so I’ll just say my bit, maybe ask a question and then poke Claire to update her bit and then I’ll tack on mine so it (hopefully) works a bit like you guys taking a peak into our conversation. If there’s anything that you want to add—even if you haven’t read it yet!—or if you have any questions or comments please add them below! We really want to know 🙂
So one of the things I noticed first was that Claire felt most sympathy for Jessamy’s dad than her mum and I found this really interesting. I liked them both pretty equally but, like I said, in different ways. I thought her dad’s character was probably easier to like: he’s nice and timid and fun, etc. But where Claire saw him as the ‘outcast’, I really didn’t. He was only in an unfamiliar environment in two parts of the book—two holidays of the, at least, 9 years that Jess has been alive as far as I can tell. It’s easy to think of him as the outcast because the story focuses on the Nigerian magical realism elements but I think from his point of view, it should look a little different. It’s Jess’s mother who has so much to deal with: she’s living in a foreign country, a little estranged from her native land not just because she’s moved away from it but because she has essentially rejected all of its customs and even adopted a new name to fit in. She’s loud and seems a little cold sometimes maybe, but I think she is a ball of worry and caring and she just wants what’s best for her family, but she also doesn’t always know how to show that and provide discipline other than through tough love.
I can definitely connect with her on the level of someone who has moved away from her home country (where, for a lot of reasons, she didn’t really fit in: career aspirations, beliefs, values, etc.) and who is having a bit of inner conflict about what that means. For Jessamy’s mother, a lot of that conflict comes with raising Jess. She is Nigerian. But in what ways? How Nigerian does Jess feel? How Nigerian should she feel? How much of Nigeria does she know compared to England? Does that mean she’s actually just English because she talks and acts that way (whatever that means)? And so many more questions besides.
I also have a blended immediate family. In all sorts of ways. We each (my mother, father and brother) have different citizenships, we are different races, my parents have two different cultures. All of that meets under one roof in my house. Unlike Claire, however, the race thing has never bothered any of us as much as it seems to be present in Claire’s mind. For this reason, I think I connect again with Jessamy’s family because not once was race a divisive issue for Jess. Even when she got teased once about it at school, she doesn’t have a racial identity crisis. She has a cultural one. That is the story that I rarely see spoken about when the topic of ‘mixed families’ comes up, but it is the one most familiar to me. I also believe this is a complex conflict to explain because, even in a household with black and white American parents, I imagine there is a culture convergence and not just a racial one because those different races, though both American, actually do often (not always) live in vastly different cultural structures as well as different racial ones.
I imagine there are also other issues that accompany not being able to speak the language of one half of your identity too though I can’t speak on that personally. (Claire might be able to speak more on that?)
And I completely agree with Claire that I love how Oyeyemi didn’t fetishise Jess’s mixed heritage. It’s just a necessary part of the story showing how her two worlds meet. It is neither desirable nor undesirable. It just is! I prefer diverse stories like this because it doesn’t feel so “life-lessons”-ish. It’s not about teaching people to be better people (though we could always use more of that too I guess). It’s about just being inclusive…and the rest falls into place (I hope).
I wish I was this deep but I will be frank about this: for me it’s about feeling. Actually speaking on that, I got a bit miffed because Nikki got me to do this simple 3 question quiz online that basically tries to sum up your thinking style and I got Intuitive Thinker. Now that’s annoyed me to thy kingdom come because I… well I know I’m that, everyone who knows me knows that my gut or how I feel rule all of my opinions on things. It makes academic life so much harder and crappier and how do you ever explain to your boss that you know your answer is right, you don’t know how but you just know it’s right because it feels right? That’s how I felt about this book. Or at least some of those characters, my sympathy for Jessamy’s dad was just a gut feeling. He was an outsider but like Nikki said above the mother is as well. But to me the dad felt like a bit of an underdog (and I am a big lover of the underdog, drives my friends nuts), he had quiet strength but in the relationship Mum seemed to do more of the talking and was more of a hurricane force of nature. I just felt more for him, especially when he was in Nigeria, trying so hard and just sticking out. That’s a quip of mine, I guess, you know what the mother feels or thinks but the dad is veiled and I want more from him, I want to know how he feels about his family, about the magic in the air that he can’t see.
Oyeyemi did me proud with how she wrote about Jess’ mixed race family and Nikki did bring a tear to my eye in her last paragraph, she wrote that so well! I do agree that Jess’ dissonance, her split and rupture might be more cultural than ethnic which I can relate to. I do think that race/ethnicity is more on my mind than Nikki so I was quick to find out or suss out any sort of depiction that I disagreed with- and I didn’t, I didn’t see anything that made me mad or brought out anything negative (both personally and intellectually). Maybe that was the magic realism bit? The fantasy of Nigeria fused with England?
Haha, we need Intuitive Thinkers like you. I feel like there’s always something behind a ‘feeling’. Even if it’s misinformed sometimes…there’s a reason that feeling is there and that’s interesting. (I always seem to get Analytical Thinker on every test where there is an option for ‘analytical thinker’). I don’t actually think we do know more about Jess’s mum than her dad. I think that’s the sad thing about people who are extraverts. I am, undoubtedly, an introvert and I (like to believe) I’m fairly perceptive and read people well enough…but not all extraverts are open books. Their motivations are often easy to read but not always the intricacies of their thoughts. In this instance I felt Jess’s dad was as concealed and/or transparent as her mum. He’s an underdog I suppose…and we always see quiet people as underdogs… But they aren’t always. We know he’s often a pushover and we know discipline doesn’t exist in his vocabulary in any way shape or form (I think what Jess’s mother says about discipline is the kind of tongue-in-cheek discipline Claire and I were raised on, but what she actually does is not actually that harsh considering…I think). She’s the one who has the breakdowns (plural!); not Jess’s dad. He’s quiet, but he’s strong in his own way too. He’s the patient type who outlasts his problems with optimism. I guess I just don’t feel as worried for those types of characters.. Again, I think it’s easy to forget that loud/abrasive characters can have depth and be the underdogs too.
But yeah, I totally agree about the looking for flaws! I was like “I friggin’ know this experience! Let’s see what you got, Oyeyemi! Bring it!” And then it was like “Oh.. Aw okay then. That’s what I thought..yeah..that’s how it is…” hahaha! Obviously some people in mixed-race, mixed-culture families will have had different experiences from me and Claire (I mean, our experiences have also been fairly different!) but I think there was something central to the experience that is really carried across well and relatable here. But not just relatable to those who have personal experience of it. I think it’s relatable to anyone who has had any experience with a family of any kind. And I mean that in a looser sense of people close to you who care and who you care about and who you sometimes have a confusing relationship with…
So let’s talk about Jess! I…actually feel really torn about her. I did think she was very precocious and ‘knowing’ for her age, but I thought it was plausible I guess. It wasn’t the thing that bothered me most about her. I am…uncomfortable(?) to say, I found her spoilt and I don’t think I’d have the patience to deal with a child like her who screams when things don’t go her way and who, to my mind, seems to cause a lot of her own problems by being so..I dunno.. hostile? disagreeable? But in a quiet, sullen…almost condescending kind of way. Like, FOR REAL, you can’t just say what your problem is instead of screaming!? I have little patience for tantrums. But then I feel bad. What if that’s a disorder?? siigh.
Actually, I have a friend that reminds me a bit of Jessamy, their knowledge and thirst for reading at an age where most kids care for chocolate and mud. So it wasn’t that much of a stretch but I was consistently annoyed by Jess’ tone of voice: no child, no matter how eloquent or genius like, talks like that! It really annoyed me, maybe the book should have been about a teenager rather than a child?
Another interesting part is the science versus the magic realism of Jess’ imagination/disorder. Her screaming fits, it seemed like all of the air rushed into her and it was the only way she could get the itching and pulling and twisting to stop. But what the readers don’t end up finding out is if that’s her (and I did think it was a tad attention seeking at first…) or if it’s the magic of her world, the sheer force of being neither here nor there.
To touch on Jess’ Dad as Nikki noted above, the underdog is typically cast as the quiet type and yes, he had his own quiet strength but Mum always bulldozed over it. So you can have strength, loud or quiet or screaming but if it gets you nowhere, then, it doesn’t do much does it?
Haha, WELL. Gotta address the parents thing again; when Jess’s dad had opinions that he felt really strongly about, he did assert them (sometimes with a hint of sass; which I liked). Her dad is equally as important as her mother, and I don’t want to give the impression I didn’t sympathise with him or like him because, like I said somewhere before, I did. I really liked him. I found him endearing and a great team-player, and a point of kindness and balance. So I can see why we want to see him as the victim between him and Jess’ mother. But he is not the only victim. In fact, he is also not the biggest victim, I think. He is, in my opinion, just the easiest victim to root for.
Yes, often Jess’s mum stepped in to lay down the lay, but have you no sympathy for the woman who had, like, three or four crying breakdowns?? The woman who was plagued by being between three worlds (Nigeria, Britain and the magic world) but is also blind to it all and can do nothing but what she thinks is best to make it all better?? Have you no sympathy for the woman who, with terrible perception, is trying her best to do what’s best for her family and herself while living in a foreign land and grappling with the conflict of whether she is abandoning parts of her culture she should be holding steadfastly too or if those aspects are suffocating her own freedoms?? Have you no sympathy for the woman who, being plainly different in almost all ways (race, culture, language, upbringing, etc) from the norm in her adopted homeland, the UK, and being pointed out constantly by family and strangers alike (to her face) as the ‘bad guy’ when her actions are only ever done out of love, frustration and/or ignorance…sometimes all at once (and, yes! a terrible combination, but not a malicious one)?? Have you no sympathy for the woman who clearly encourages Jess’s voracious reading and diverse literary tastes?? Come, now.
But to be absolutely clear, my favourite character was Shivs. I really looked forward to anything involving Shivs. I want to be like Shivs.
I agree Jess often seems to speak/think beyond her years (and knows how to sass beyond her years too). Shivs, however, did speak like I thought a 9 year old would and she wasn’t stupid, if rather flippant at times. Darcy (was that Jess’s British cousin’s name?), who was about the same age also spoke like I felt a 9 year old would and she did come across as a bit more superficial, I guess, than the others. So I can only assume it was done to emphasise how ‘in a different league’ Jessamy is intellectually—especially having moved up a grade and all… But I just have to agree with Claire: it didn’t feel completely believable. But maybe that’s because we don’t know enough child geniuses. Who knows!
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SO I think that’s all we wanted to talk about. We would really love to hear from any of you who have already read The Icarus Girl, who want to read it or who just have opinions about anything we mentioned here! 🙂