Zahrah the Windseeker by Nnedi Okorafor is both a story about a girl rescuing a boy, and a girl growing into her own strength, both of which are themes I enjoy. Zahrah’s story is pretty linear, straightforward, and in some ways predictable, so what really makes this book stand out is the TOTALLY GLITTERPANTS WORLDBUILDING. If there’s such a thing as phytopunk, this book is it — Zahrah’s people have all the latest in today’s technology, only it’s all botanical. They plant computer seeds that grow computers which continue to evolve as the owner uses them, flowers are used as money and lanterns, and a five-story library that sounds like the most cutting-edge futuristic architecture with floor-to-ceiling windows is actually made out of a see-through “glass” tree. (Maybe this is just regular solarpunk. Don’t know my “punks” very well.)
The plant technology isn’t the only fun stuff. The forbidden jungle where Zahrah earns most of her Personal Growth Narrative, is populated by a menagerie of invented animals, some dangerous, some entertaining. Zahrah’s human family and her best friend are all sympathetic characters, and I love the image of the wise leader Papa Grip wearing a hot pink caftan.
I did have a little cognitive dissonance because a major theme of the book is Zahrah freaking out over the fact that she gains the ability to levitate when she gets her first period, because this isn’t normal even in her whimsical fantasy environment. It was hard for me to understand how someone could live in a place so fanciful yet be bewildered by this specific type of magic. It doesn’t really matter, though–the story’s still fun.
By the way, the story is totally approachable to people intimidated by complex speculative worldbuilding. Many of the plant widgets are just cool plant versions of modern real-world devices, and many of the animals are explained by entries in a faulty “digi-book” from the library that romantically sometimes won’t turn on or can’t load the whole entry (I liked this touch; it puts the lie to that accusation that modern technology leaves us bereft of certain 20th century plot gimmicks.)