Book Scene: “The Door of No Return” is a lyrical and haunting children’s verse novel | Explore Yakima

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When I finished ‘The Door of No Return’ by poet and fiction writer Kwame Alexander, not only was I deeply moved, but I knew I was about to read a story we need right now in the children’s literature. The just-published Book of Alexander is historical fiction told in verse, especially for older elementary readers and young adults.

Set in West Africa in 1860, the story is inspired by the real life of the Asante people and told from the perspective of 11-year-old Kofi Offin, who takes us into his daily life with his family and village. Kofi is the grandson of Nana Mosi, a great storyteller; cousin of Kofi Katari, a competitive bully (both born on a Friday); best friend with Ebo; and hopeful darling of Ama. Kofi knows the joys and stresses of childhood, and despite warnings, he enjoys swimming in the River Offin, where he was born.

When his older brother, Kwasi, is chosen to compete in a wrestling match in a rival village, unexpected results create real trouble for the family. Ultimately, Kofi comes to understand that he and his people were betrayed to get revenge and pay off the “great colorless men”.

Writing novels in verse is a brilliant tool, which Alexander used in his other books, most notably in “The Crossover,” which won the Newbery Medal for Excellence in Children’s Literature. What we are going through with our young narrator is a horribly difficult thing. The rhythm and rhythm of the verses convey all of Kofi’s fear of being flown away from home, across the water, into a future that is totally unknown to him, but one that the reader understands will be slavery. Kofi’s ultimate journey is not alone.

As the author said when asked about the power of poetry, “You can take those emotionally heavy moments in our lives, and you can distill them into those digestible words and lines and sentences. and digestible that allow us to be able to process and face the world.”

“The Door of No Return” is the first of a planned trilogy. Step into the flowing story of Kofi’s journey through this door. I can’t wait to hear the rest of his story.

• “The Door of No Return” by Kwame Alexander was published by Little, Brown and Co. on September 27th. It retails for $17.99.

• Amy Halvorson Miller is Assistant Manager at Inklings Bookshop. She and other Inklings staff review books in Sunday’s Explore each week.

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