Katie's Reviews > War Girls

War Girls by Tochi Onyebuchi
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it was amazing
bookshelves: best-of-2019, ya, science-fiction

It reeeeally bums me out to see people give up on War Girls or rate it poorly because they weren't familiar with the Nigerian Civil War and the history related to Biafra.

Honestly, this reflects poorly on reviewers as a whole, given that the vast majority of GR reviewers (and reviewers with this particular complaint) are white and Western. We need to do better.

If you find yourself confused or disinterested simply because you're not familiar with the Nigeria/Biafra conflict, before you DNF, try:

→Skipping to the end (page 459 in the US ARC) and reading the author's note, which lays out the basics in 4 paragraphs.

→Opening a second tab next to Goodreads and reading the first 2-3 paragraphs of the Wikipedia article on the Nigerian Civil War.

I'm talking about literally 3-4 minutes learning the names of the nations at play and the premise of the conflict.

(To be honest, I think the book reads fine even if you're new to the history. The author tells you who is Nigerian and who is Biafran and what that basically means. He even says in the author's note that this period of history isn't taught very much, so he's clearly expecting readers to come into War Girls with very little knowledge. But if you feel that's an obstacle to your reading experience, fine--that's what the internet is for.)

For the record, I loved War Girls, but if I hadn't, it sure wasn't going to be because I didn't put in a minimum of effort. There are lots of reasons War Girls might not be your thing--it's not for everyone. And I still have a few complaints about the writing, so rating it low because the flashback structure wasn't successful or the characters seemed underwritten to you wouldn't be unreasonable. But that's not what I see happening. I see people not giving it a chance.

This is where we walk the walk, people. If you say you want diverse voices, if you say you want untold stories, then you have to give them a fair chance. A sci-fi inspired by medieval Italy or the Cold War or whatever has the benefit of your built-in familiarity with the real history (especially if you're European or American). If you actually want marginalized voices, you won't always get that benefit. That's... the entire point.

Turning your nose up at putting in 3 minutes of background skimming so you can read an #OwnVoices African-history-based book with the same level of engagement you'd read a Eurocentric fantasy? That really makes it sound like you don't actually want diverse voices, you just want the same exact thing you've always read, just with a person of color in the author's picture.

This is what reading outside of your comfort zone means. It means sometimes you have to google the name of that unfamiliar food or country or honorific or object. And it means sometimes... gasp... you won't quite get everything. I think my cursory research was enough for me to grasp the story. Would I appreciate the book more if I had real, deep education on the topic? I'm sure I would have! I'm sure there's a lot of nuance I missed. Would Nigerian readers get more from this book than I did? Very likely. But maybe that's okay. Maybe I need to practice thinking of myself as a guest in the story rather than the primary audience.

Anyway... here's my review of the actual book. It's phenomenal, and I'm so frustrated by the number of readers who not only won't give it a chance but will turn other readers away simply because they're unfamiliar with the background.

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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Reading Progress

Started Reading
September, 2019 – Finished Reading
September 3, 2019 – Shelved
September 3, 2019 – Shelved as: to-read
September 30, 2019 – Shelved as: best-of-2019
September 30, 2019 – Shelved as: ya
September 30, 2019 – Shelved as: science-fiction

Comments Showing 1-2 of 2 (2 new)

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Dawn Teresa Agreed. I feel like there would be more starred editorial reviews if this novel were an easier read. People want to be entertained more than they want to learn or be moved, unfortunately.

message 2: by George (new) - added it

George Tama Well said....right on point!

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