Cover Image: War Girls

War Girls

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Member Reviews

A civil war has gone on for many years in Nigeria (Nigeria vs Biafra). Onyii and Ify are "sisters" who get separated, grow up in different situations, see lots of horrors, and have to eventually work together to escape and live their lives in safety and freedom.
This was a difficult read to get into. I like the perspective switching, but it could have been easily labeled, leading to a smoother read. The author's note at the end did shed some light on what was going on and the inspiration for the book, but maybe this could have been at the beginning? The story definitely throws the reader into the deep end right away, and for readers who this style is very new to and who don't know much about Africa, this could be off-putting.
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I have a hard time rating/reviewing this book.  One the one hand, I loved the futuristic African setting that at the same time illuminated the historical events of the civil war between Biafra and Nigeria.  And it is well-written.  On the other hand, it's just not my style of book - too much violence (although not graphic).  So I won't be reading any sequels.
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This novel is based on historical aspects of the Nigerian Civil War and the decades of war that followed.. Onyii is an Augment, organ and limbs have been replaced by mechanical parts. Ifyi, her sister, is bullied, because her skin is a bit lighter. Ifyi uses her Accent, a technology that she created, to have enhanced abilities for perception and communication, among other abilities. Onyii and Ifyi are part of the Biafran war camp, where they are taught and raised to be warriors. Nigirians attack the camp and Onyii thinks kidnapped Ifyi is dead. As a result, Onyii is convinced to fight for Republic of Biafra and becomes known as the demon of Biafra. Ifyi, however, is alive and learning her true lineage and how she ended up at a war camp. The plot is intense, but drags in places. Characters strong characters are likable and draw the reader into the story. Fans of science fiction, war, cyborgs, and thrillers will enjoy reading this book.
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Onyii and Ify live as sisters in an all-girls refugee/war camp on the edge of the Redlands, an area riddled with radiation from a long-ago nuclear disaster.  Nigeria, their home, is in the midst of a civil war.  Children are conscripted as soldiers and pilots for mechanized warrior robots.  Onyii and Ify are separated, and as truths are revealed to each of them, they must decide where, and with whom, their loyalties lie all while trying not to die a terrible death in a bloody civil war.

Going into this, I knew nothing about the Nigeria - Biafran civil war of the 1960s, which is at the heart of this novel.  Personally, I enjoy learning about parts of history that I know nothing about (I typically don’t gravitate to one of the 1,983,784,767 WWII novels, for example), and I really enjoyed the unique setting.  The book is set in the future, and the futuristic elements really added a lot to the plot and were well employed by the author.  Onyii, for example, is an Augment, meaning that she’s a little bit of a bionic woman.  While I didn’t really relate to the main characters, I did really like them.  They didn’t always make the best decisions, but their decisions made sense to their characters and their respective arcs.    They were easy to root for.  Really, my only complaint was that it felt overlong, and I skimmed through some of the battle scenes, but that’s more a matter of personal preference.  

TLDR: Looking for something to read after Children of Blood and Bone? You’ve found your next great Nigerian inspired read!  (And, honestly, if you haven’t read Children of Blood and Bone but it’s on your TBR, I’d suggest replacing it with War Girls, which is a much more original, engaging book).  For readers who like apocalyptic novels and futuristic sci-fi battles.  4 stars.

Thanks to Netgalley and Razorbill for the eARC which I received in exchange for an honest review.  War Girls will be available for purchase on 15 October, but you can put your copy on hold today!
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What a satisfying, provoking… meal of a book.

When done well, there’s a deep satisfaction I get from reading about teen girls running and climbing and gritting their teeth against pain and tearing fabric with their teeth and just being grimy and angry. It’s a deep, guttural satisfaction that I can’t quite explain. I remember feeling it as a teen reader, and I still feel it. War Girls hit exactly that spot for me.

Those girls are tough and gritty and oh, so competent. I do love a character that’s great at her job.

Some might be turned off by the specialness of the two main characters. They’re both prodigiously talented at something impressive and highly respected by others despite being teens. I definitely have fatigue for that kind of character (especially in YA fantasy, oof) but I didn’t mind here. For one thing, no trope is tired until it’s been done to death by marginalized perspectives too, and the simple fact that these two badass geniuses were Black girls made it feel fresh and subversive. On top of that, Onyebuchi wisely refrained by populating the book with boys falling over their feet in love with the girls, and that kept it from being too cringey.

War Girls is unexpectedly compassionate.

War Girls is so bloody and uncompromising, you might not expect it to also be this tender. But it is. The story keeps the relationship between two girls (a sisterly, mother/daughter-ly, friends-to-enemies-to-allies relationship) at its heart. Beneath all the (extremely well-written) scenes of thrilling battle is a soul-deep longing for peace.

Onyebuchi is going for a ridiculously difficult balancing act. He’s trying to mirror a real life conflict, which is always a minefield, especially when many of the tensions underlying the War still exist today. There are many moving parts in this world, and no clear “good guys.” To my mind, he pulls it off. I never felt that he was both-sidesing me about the conflict, just being honest about the complexity of heroism in the midst of overlapping atrocities. He reaches towards compassion for many characters, trying to understand them without necessaruly absolving them.

I’ll be honest, this one barely edged into the five-star bracket.

I do have some frustrations with the writing. Most notably, there are a few important facts that are deliberately held back from the reader, and that grinds my gears. When I get a character’s POV, I expect their P of freaking V. There are multiple points where we watch the character we’re following “see something” but are specifically not told what they’re seeing. These are important events for plot and character, but we don’t get to actually witness them because it’ll be more dramatic to reveal them later on. To me, that breaks a fundamental promise you make with the reader. Besides, the book is twisty enough without the delayed reveals. It’s unnecessary and sort of infantilizing.

But for me, the five-star category is for books that I liked, that I think are done well, and that I will rec to others unprompted. I feel that “evangelical zeal” about War Girls that makes me want to tell everyone I know about it. I really think it’s a wonderful addition to the YA shelves, so that’s five stars for sure.

Yes, you’ll want to know the background.

I think you could read War Girls without any prior knowledge of the Nigerian Civil War. If you’re a careful reader and pay close attention, you’ll still be able to understand everything that happens.

But I’m not sure why you’d want to. The story is so much richer if you have just a little familiarity. I’m sure readers who are well-educated on the history or are Nigerian themselves would understand the nuances even more.

Because there’s so much to say (and I love me a historiography deep dive), I’m working on a whole post giving a crash-course on the Nigerian Civil War and discussing the relationship between War Girls and the real history.

There has been writing about Biafra, but not nearly enough. And not nearly enough of it by those who can still feel the imprint of the conflict on their lives.”

Author’s Note, US ARC
You can also get a brief overview of the conflict from the Author’s Note at the end of the book (page 448 of the US ARC). I’d recommend starting with this note, unless you want to go in completely blind to the themes of the story. It’s helpful from a factual perspective (Onyebuchi reviews the major elements of the War) and from a literary one. War Girls, Onyebuchi says, is his way of working through it, of “sifting poison out of the water drawn from the well” and giving current generations new ways to approach traumatic history. His connection to the conflict is personal–not only as a Nigerian, but as the son of a childhood survivor of the violence. The Note (a mere four pages) is just as moving and sharp as any chapter in the book. If you come across a copy in a bookstore or library, try beginning with the Note. It’s likely you’ll want to read more.

Content Warnings for War Girls include violence (lots of on-page violence towards and by teens); on-page supporting character death; on-page serious injury and limb loss; abandonment, kidnapping, and family violence; drug use, smoking, and alcohol use by teen characters. Warning for triggers related to racism/colorism, ethnic cleansing, hate, discrimination/oppression, war, and chronic illness and cancer. The book includes many characters with prosthetics (and sci-fi enhancements) with some violence related to prosthetics.

Thank you to Wednesday Books for providing an advance review copy of this title. No money changed hands for this review and all opinions are my own.
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War girls is a refreshing SciFi story with strong female characters. Readers who like Scifi but need it grounded in reality will enjoy the social commentary and Japanese mache.
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A fascinating novel set in futuristic Nigeria. The setting is perfect for those who like Black Panther and science fiction. The dystopian book about child soldiers really has a lot to say about a very real modern problem but in a unique, sci-fi way. I would definitely recommend this for all YA library collections.
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This was a good story! The characters were interesting and the conclusion was quite believable. I did feel that the story had places where it was dragging and that the emotional impact of the ending was lessened because of that. I do recommend this title!
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I couldn't finish this one and it made me really sad. The concept was so cool to me, I was so excited to get an Arc of this title. However, I couldn't get past the writing style. In the first few pages I saw way too much 'telling' instead of showing.  I read so many books, as a librarian I have to, so I'm a lot pickier than I used to be. The author was trying to give you an idea of the world her characters live in too quickly- it needed to be more organic. The style of writing may appeal to other readers, but for more I couldn't get past it to see if it improved as we went along.
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