It’s not often you find science fiction books with black main characters (at least in my experience), especially in YA, but I found one such book–actually, three–and highly recommend it. It’s Binti: The Complete Trilogy by Nnedi Okorafor.
What is Binti About?
Binti, a young Himba girl, has the chance of a lifetime: to attend the prestigious Oomza University. Despite her family’s concerns, Binti’s talent for mathematics and her aptitude with astrolabes make her a prime candidate to undertake this interstellar journey.
But everything changes when the jellyfish-like Medusae attack Binti’s spaceship, leaving her the only survivor. Now, Binti must fend for herself, alone on a ship full of the beings who murdered her crew, with five days until she reaches her destination.
There is more to the history of the Medusae–and their war with the Khoush–than first meets the eye. If Binti is to survive this voyage and save the inhabitants of the unsuspecting planet that houses Oomza Uni, it will take all of her knowledge and talents to broker the peace.
What’s So Good About Binti?
Binti: The Complete Trilogy is a wonderfully unique book, blending elements of a marginalized main character from a marginalized culture with some classic sci-fi elements–like space travel, diverse species, war, and politics–with some not-so-classic sci-fi elements like living space ships, a sentient war-crazed jellyfish-like species, trans-spatial consciousness, and resurrection. This uniqueness is definitely its strength.
To that strength is added solid prose and full-but-not-ponderous inner dialogue. Such dialogue could have easily overtaken the narrative as the young main character is overwhelmed by the things that happen to her and the isolation she experiences, but it doesn’t.
Additionally, I loved the underlying themes expressed in Binti’s thoughts: “Everything is so complicated and connected,” she thinks, in relation to the fraught history her tribe shares with a nearby culture, the Himba. Too, she wonders if one can be broken, as she felt herself to be near the end of the third book, and still bring change. That point, most of all, resonated with me as I feel myself to be “broken” at times, or at least woefully inadequate but so desirous to bring change and improve the lives of as many people as possible as deeply as possible.
There were a few very minor instances of repetitive defining that pulled me out of the story ever so slightly, such as the fact that every time “life salt” is mentioned it is also defined, not just at its first mention. This seemed unnecessary to me, but as I mentioned, was minor and didn’t detract significantly from my enjoyment of the story.
On my own scale of 1 to 10 stars, I give this a 9.75.