While in Nigeria, she makes friends with a girl, about the same age as herself, called Titiola or Tilly-Tilly. Tilly-Tilly is everything Jess ever wanted in a friend, the only problem is, no one other than Jess can actually see Tilly-Tilly. So, who is she? An imaginary friend? An altar-ego? A ghost? Tilly-Tilly tells Jess that she is her twin (Jess supposedly lost her twin at childbirth), but is she really? At this point the author's exploration of Nigerian beliefs and rituals surrounding the death of a twin is captivating.
Tilly-Tilly seems the exact opposite of Jess. Where Jess is fragile, Tilly is strong and powerful. While Jess hates confrontations, Tilly-Tilly seems to thrive on them. With Tilly-Tilly in her life, Jess seems to spin out of control.
While the story itself is fascinating and the author's dive into the mind of an 8-year old, stunning, I am more fascinated with this young author's own story.
At the age of 13, Oyeyemi plunged into a vortex of despair and was eventually diagnosed as suffering from clinical depression. At 15, she attempted suicide with a drug overdose. Her psychiatrist thought that a visit to Nigeria might be just what she needed, and it seemed to do the trick. It was the best summer of her life and after that she devoted her time to serious writing and studying for her entrance exams into Cambridge. She completed writing "The Icarus Girl" when she was only 18 years old.
Reading about the author's tender years leads me to believe that this is a masked autobiography and a brilliantly written one at that. Oyeyemi does an absolutely splendid job of showing us the mind of a troubled child. Childhood can certainly be a magical time, but for many children childhood can be a very troubling time as well, a time where there are more questions than answers, more puzzlement than clarity. I'm glad the author doesn't romanticize childhood in this story, but tells it like she sees it.