Children's Review: The Door of No Return

In this foreboding yet mesmerizing historical novel in verse by Newbery Medalist Kwame Alexander (The Undefeated; The Crossover), Asante villager Kofi Offin comes face to face with the door of no return.

Eleven-year-old Kofi lives with his tight-knit family in a Ghanaian village called Upper Kwanta. He spends his time with friends Ebo and Ama and attending school, where he learns English, European history and Western values. As Kofi develops a crush on Ama, it becomes clear to him that his cousin is also smitten. Kofi decides he will prove that he is the better romantic interest by challenging his cousin to a race in the river Offin, for which he is named.

Meanwhile, Upper Kwanta and a neighboring village, Lower Kwanta, celebrate their annual peace treaty. At the festival, the prince of Lower Kwanta dies during a wrestling match with Kofi's older brother, Kwasi. Reprisal from Lower Kwanta is almost certain, but Kofi focuses on the imminent river challenge with his cousin. The river plays a huge role in Kofi's life. Though it is a place of happiness for him and his friends, villagers gossip that beasts dwell there at night. Kofi questions the gossip until he sees for himself that there truly are monstrous things hiding near the water. Kofi, accompanied by Kwasi, goes to the river to practice for the race. When they arrive, they find traps--snares designed specifically to capture humans. The moment Kofi is caught, he is placed on a path that leads directly to the door of no return.

Alexander's descriptive language, moody tone and sometimes distressing scenes explore and expose Kofi's emotions, allowing readers to empathize and connect with him. The book unfolds predominantly in verse, which carries readers swiftly through this riveting work of historical fiction. Each chapter begins with a prose interlude, headed by an Adinkra symbol, each of which has "representations and meanings... linked to fables" and is "used to bestow wisdom and knowledge." Alexander's use of the symbols both foreshadow Kofi's journey and give further context to Kofi's world. Alexander masterfully displays Asante culture in Kofi's everyday life through games like oware, the cuisine, storytelling and the use of Twi, the native tongue. Copious backmatter includes a Twi glossary, author's note, legend for Adinkra symbols and a list of real locations used in the book. --Kharissa Kenner, children's librarian, Bank Street School for Children

Shelf Talker: An 11-year-old Ghanian boy must fight for his survival in this gut-wrenching historical novel in verse from Newbery Medalist Kwame Alexander.

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