Reviewed by Amy Gruzesky
Binti, a young adult science fiction novella written by Nnedi Okorafor, is not something I would normally pick up, but after reading it, I can honestly say it is not just for young adults.
I believe anyone who is willing to let go of reality and accept a story line that goes into the otherworldly will find themselves feeling satisfied at the end by the story, the plot, the underlying messages, and the main character.
Binti is a young girl who wants to go to a university in another galaxy, even though her family is against it and will make her an outcast among her people. She also knows that once she gets to the University of Oomza Uni, she will have a hard time fitting in. But she doesn’t let that deter her. Instead, emboldened by her exceptional mathematic skills and her dream of wanting to learn even more, she steals off in the night to take the shuttle that will get her to the space ship that will fly her and others to Oomza Uni.
Even along the way, while waiting in line for a boarding pass, she experiences looks and comments from individuals focusing on her differences–her hair, her skin color, her ankle bracelets.
Early on, the reader knows Binti is different, even on planet Earth, and not just in the galaxy to which she is about to enter.
Once she makes it onto the ship, she encounters other people close to her in age and academic abilities, all different from her and all keenly aware of their physical and racial differences, save for the one thing they have in common: their love of learning and thirst for more knowledge.
Binti soon forms bonds with these others based on their common love of learning, and even develops a crush on a boy named Heru. However, this new environment is about to end for her in an abrupt and violent way when their ship is overtaken by space creatures known as the Meduse.
The Meduse are enemies of many other races and have a specific vendetta against Oomzu Uni. The University possesses the stinger of one of its deceased chiefs, and they want it back.
It becomes clear to Binti that the only way for her to save herself and the University is to somehow find a way to peacefully retrieve the stinger and give it back to Meduse, without triggering an all-out war, a path that would lead to destruction for all. The question is can Binti succeed?
This novella, winner of both the Hugo and Nebula awards, is the first part of a trilogy, and I can honestly say I plan on reading the remaining two books in the series.
As an adult reading this book, one can appreciate some of the undertones of race, how human beings judge each other on appearances, some controllable such as clothing or jewelry, and others innate to specific races and cultures like hair, skin tone, and physical features, and how we use those things to either include or exclude others from our circles.
I was also impressed by the strength of Binti’s character and intellect, and I appreciated how the author has created an amazing role model for young girls who might read this book.
Definitely check this one out, and share it with the young people in your life. The story line and the feelings it will evoke will make it well worth it.