City girl Simi is sent to stay with her long-lost grandmother in a remote Nigerian village. There’s no TV, internet or phone. Not a single human-made sound can be heard at night, just the noise of birds and animals rustling in the dark forest outside. Her witchlike grandmother dispenses advice and herbal medicine to the village, but she’s tight-lipped about their family history. Something must have happened, but what? Determined to find out, Simi disobeys her grandmother and goes exploring. Caught in the sinking red quicksand of a forbidden lake, her fantastical journey begins …
Simi is left under the care of a grandmother she never knew existed in a remote village she has also never been to. Of course, the first-world problems of city kids plague her; there’s no WiFi, so how will she cope?
Adding to that, there is a strain on her mother and grandmother’s relationship because of something that occurred in the past.
Oh, and what’s all of this with a forbidden forest that no one is supposed to enter, but somehow Simi has found herself inside?
Now Simi has to discover what happened in the past and face her fears. If not, she would be trapped in an alternative world.
Simi is a young child going through her parents’ divorce, and this is something that affects her throughout the book. You can tell that this is a child that has been torn from her cultural roots because her parents did not discuss this with her; one is deeply traumatized, and the other is not present. I think this is very reminiscent of many Nigerian children today (the torn from cultural roots part), which is sad because we are losing our cultural values fast, and they may be gone forever.
I like that the return to the roots was made and that Simi was able to discover herself and her heritage. It brought me great joy to see Simi embrace that part of her.
Let’s talk about Iyanla, Simi’s grandmother. I am not going to lie. Reading this book made me miss my own grandma, and I wish every day that she was still here with me for me to be able to learn from her.
Iyanla is a fountain of knowledge, and she represents those elders that are revered in villages and towns. She still uses traditional medicine to heal and help the people of her village. Under all the titles she holds, she is still a mother who grieves and seeks reconciliation with her daughter. When you see her vulnerable despite all her titles and respect her has, you’ll see your grandma in her.
The way the folklore was woven around the people and village was interesting. Ajao is separated from modern niceties, preserved in its own bubble. Life is simple here, and it’s in that simplicity that you find joy.
Ah yes, I know i did mention it’s simple but even simple has its rules… and therein lies my least favorite trope… DON’T GO THERE.
We already know she went there, in this case, to the forbidden forest where the entrance to another world is located. You know, when you are reading something, and you can already sense the death flag? Yeah, that’s how I felt when Iyanla warned Simi about the path she should take and the forbidden forest was mentioned…I knew the little twerp would somehow find her way there.
I enjoyed the world inside the quicksand, and I kind of wish it was longer, but for young readers, the intrigue of this world is enough to make them happy and get their brains imagining stuff.
This was a good read. Although it’s recommended for middle-grade children, I recommend it for everyone. The folklore is enthralling for old and young to enjoy it. It can be read in one sitting.