Title: Daughter of Oduma
Author: Moses Ose Utomi
Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers
Review Copy: ARC by publisher
Availability: Available now
Eat. Dance. Fight.
This is the life of the girls who compete in the Isle’s elite, all-female fighting sport of Bowing. But it isn’t really Dirt’s life anymore. At sixteen, she is old and has retired from competition. Instead, she spends her days coaching the younger sisters of the Mud Fam and dreading her fast-approaching birthday, when she’ll have to leave her sisters to fulfill whatever destiny the Gods choose for her.
Dirt’s young sisters are coming along nicely, and the Mud Fam is sure to win the upcoming South God Bow tournament, which is crucial: the tiny Fam needs the new recruits that come with victory. Then an attack from a powerful rival leaves the Mud without their top Bower, and Dirt is the only one who can compete in the tournament. But Dirt is old, out of shape, and afraid. She has never wanted to be a leader. Victory seems impossible—yet defeat would mean the end of her beloved Fam. And no way is Dirt going to let that happen.
Review: *Sigh* I really wanted to fall in love with this book as I found it an interesting premise for a debut fantasy novel. It seemed very different from the typical “hero’s journey” type of story that has the chosen main character on some journey to save the world. In “Daughters of Oduma” Dirt’s chosen family is her world and she must save them. I expected a very different type of fantasy and I definitely did, but to me there was something missing. I initially could’t figure it out as I was reading as I struggled to connect to the story. It was later as I realized what took me out of the novel so many times was that the world building felt incomplete to me and I was struggling due to not having these answers.
Daughters of Oduma was set on some island country(?) on some world where children were split into groups of four communities (the Bower Girls, the Butterfly/Mosquito Girls, the Pusher Boys, and the Flag Boys). There is only one adult (Antie Yaya) who seems to oversee all of the groups (I think) but definitely knows more than she lets on. The Bower Girls are the sporty girls of this society and the novel focuses on the biggest tournament of their year, the God Bow Tournament. As you can see, I had some confusion about location and the structure of the society. Also, my teacher instincts kicked in and I was very troubled that there were no other adults around. The ages of the girls in Dirt’s fam range from 4 to 16, with no adult taking care of them according to what I understand of the societal set up and I couldn’t help but worry about the kids. This one concern kept taking me out of the story as I wondered “who initially taught the children to survive?” “Who taught the children all the rules of the God Bow tournament?” “Who built all the structures described in the story?” “How did a world without adults come to be?” I feel like this is where world building broke down because there was no mythos introduced that would help us make sense of this world; it was if we were dropped in a moment of time in Dirt’s life and we were expected to know the same information that Dirt did. And while that idea is usually true, in many fantasy novels establishing mythos is usually told through beliefs or stories to help orient the reader to the world of the novel. I feel like Utomi could have slowed down some of the action of the novel to establish his world more clearly.
On the other hand, Daughters of Oduma moved at a brisk pace. There were definitely some gut wrenching moments, specifically the event that has Dirt realize that in order to save her family she must come out of retirement to compete in the tournament. The relationships with the sisters was lovely and really showed why Dirt was willing to do anything to save her family. The stakes were truly very high for Dirt as she had two weeks to get herself in shape in order to compete, but also had to overcome her mental blocks, which I felt were the strongest aspect of the novel. Dirt was happy in her “retirement” because she really didn’t enjoy Bowing and to find herself in the position of having to fight or else is not just a physical battle but an emotional battle and the journey that Dirt goes on was written beautifully. There were many times where I felt with and for her as self-doubt can really harm us and hold us back. I was with her when she had to fight her inner demons, or the Whispers as they were called in the novel, in order to stand for her family. To me, Dirt’s inner life was the strongest aspect of the novel.
Overall, while I didn’t fall in love with the novel I do not see it as time wasted. I was into it at many points and connected with some of the characters. The story moved well and there were many wonderful moments that I truly enjoyed.