Updated: Oct 24
Xolo Score 3.75/5
Abeni’s Song by P. Djèlí Clark is an enchanting middle-grade fantasy novel. Abeni lives in a small village that is preparing for its Harvest Celebration when Asha, the elderly witch who lives in the surrounding forest, warns the villagers of impending doom. Asha’s warnings are ignored, and a mysterious force destroys the town and kidnaps all the villagers—except Abeni. Asha takes Abeni under her tutelage and teaches her to tap into her latent magical potential that might save her loved ones.
*** SPOILERS AHEAD ***
One of the strengths of Abeni’s Song is Clark’s masterful world-building. The story is based on a lot of West African mythology and derives from the horrors of the Transatlantic slave trade’s impact on the region. Clark’s work perfectly straddles that line of being approachable to young readers yet exploring darker themes of conquest, loss, and loneliness. Clark accomplishes this balance by building Abeni as an inspiring, strong, and vulnerable protagonist throughout the story.
Abeni’s moments of coming into her power are tender and tumultuous. Asha saves Abeni from disappearing with the rest of her village, but once she accepts her new life with Asha, she finds herself without Asha’s guidance and wisdom. Abeni must grow up fast and on her own, learning to give and receive help and friendship, thus becoming a true leader. There are plenty of mistakes and mishaps, but Abeni’s heart of gold shines bright and encourages readers to believe in themselves.
Abeni’s Song is a thrilling West African-inspired fantasy coming-of-age novel perfect for middle-grade readers.
To what extent are there BIPOC leading characters or perspectives?
How well does the author avoid writing BIPOC experiences through the white gaze?
To what extent does the author challenge white-centered beliefs?
How well does the book explore nuances between intersectional identities?