Akwaeke Emezi's standout first novel, Freshwater, is a riveting and peculiar variation on coming of age. Ada is a Nigerian girl born into great power. Her name invokes the serpent deity of an ancient pantheon, and beckons an Igbo god collective to inhabit her form. These ogbanje are the voices that narrate Ada's youth and blooming adulthood, holding their vessel captive to their whims and assuming control when necessary to protect her.

The girl's childhood is marked by an unstable home life and volatile parents that compound her inner torments. She immigrates to the United States for school, where she is introduced to an ongoing legacy of virulent racism. The cruelty she faces intensifies with betrayals and sexual assault, and in time the supernatural swirl inside her coalesces into one, then two, then more gods who take center stage.

While Freshwater touches the many dark, complicated notes of a troubled adolescence, Emezi extrapolates their consequences into a deliriously metaphysical realm. Mental health, self-harm, abuse, heartbreak and isolation take on supernatural gravity, and mundane natural elements manifest with strong, sometimes harsh, physicality.

As enchanting as it is unsettling, Freshwater tickles all six senses. The chorus of voices narrating Ada's life achieves a remarkable balance between cruel machinations of cavalier deities and deep empathy for the distressed vessel they inhabit. But whether they are the source of Ada's problems or her buoy against them is one question that drives this refreshingly imaginative debut. --Dave Wheeler, associate editor, Shelf Awareness

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