This year, I am working on reading more debut novels, more diverse books, and more own voices stories. Akwaeke Emezi’s Freshwater is all three (and more). I didn’t know too much about this book when I picked it up – to be honest, my decision was largely due to the cover – but it completely surprised me. I was blown away by this book, and I am so glad I decided to read it.
(All reviews are spoiler-free unless otherwise noted.)
(From Goodreads) An extraordinary debut novel, Freshwater explores the surreal experience of having a fractured self. It centers around a young Nigerian woman, Ada, who develops separate selves within her as a result of being born “with one foot on the other side.” Unsettling, heartwrenching, dark, and powerful, Freshwater is a sharp evocation of a rare way of experiencing the world, one that illuminates how we all construct our identities.
Ada begins her life in the south of Nigeria as a troubled baby and a source of deep concern to her family. Her parents, Saul and Saachi, successfully prayed her into existence, but as she grows into a volatile and splintered child, it becomes clear that something went terribly awry. When Ada comes of age and moves to America for college, the group of selves within her grows in power and agency. A traumatic assault leads to a crystallization of her alternate selves: Asụghara and Saint Vincent. As Ada fades into the background of her own mind and these selves–now protective, now hedonistic–move into control, Ada’s life spirals in a dark and dangerous direction.
Narrated by the various selves within Ada and based in the author’s realities, Freshwater dazzles with ferocious energy and serpentine grace, heralding the arrival of a fierce new literary voice.
It only took me a few sentences of this book to realize that this was going to be one of the strangest books I have ever read and that I was going to love it. Akwaeke Emezi’s writing caught my attention instantly. It is arresting and beautiful, and so much fun to read. Freshwater felt like something completely new. I don’t think the writing style is for everyone, but I absolutely adored it. It was interesting, but subtle enough that it did not overshadow the story (a pet peeve of mine). It held my attention, but wasn’t overly embellished. I can’t believe this was a debut novel, because Emezi is already a master writer. I am a huge fan and will definitely be reading whatever she writes next.
The story itself was otherworldly. Emezi took human nature and shaped it into myth and magic in a way that makes complete sense. I don’t think I’ve ever read anything quite like this, and it is definitely a story that is going to stick with me. I really don’t know how to describe it other than to say that it’s one of those stories that makes you feel better about the world. Like you finally realized the true nature of things, and it makes more sense than whatever the stupid, human explanation was. This book explores gender, sexuality, and multiple personality disorder in a way that is completely fresh, and I loved it. There is certainly a dark side to this story – I definitely wouldn’t describe it as a “feel-good” book – but there’s also something positive and almost uplifting about it, too. It’s just a really great balance.
My one (minor) complaint is that the ending felt a bit anticlimactic. Perhaps it was because the novelty and excitement wore off, but I didn’t feel quite as engaged once I got to the final third of the story. Still, I did appreciate that this book didn’t end in the explosion I was half-expecting. It didn’t feel formulaic, but it also wasn’t as surprising or engaging as I wanted it to be.
I don’t want to say too much more because I think it’s best to go into this one not knowing much about it. If you enjoy the first chapter, you will enjoy the rest of the book. And it is definitely worth reading.
★★★★★ – Freshwater is easily a new favorite. I couldn’t put it down, and I still haven’t been able to stop thinking about it. If you are into literary fiction or magical realism, I highly recommend this book!
Freshwater will be available for purchase February 13, but Amazon is already shipping copies, so you can order it now!
To get the audiobook for free, use this link to sign up for a free trial of Audible and choose Freshwater as one of your two free books.
This book was provided to me by NetGalley and the publisher. All opinions are my own.
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