Aligwekwe shines in her development of characters, each offering an avenue to reflect on the ways social class unfairly dictates daily lives and relationships. Ona’s ultimate goal is to find “love and happiness,” but she’s not sure if that love will be with Albert–the handsome crown prince of Ide, a town involved in border clashes with Ntebe–or Okem, her childhood best friend and household servant. Will she find happiness with her one true love despite their differing social statuses, or become a Queen and bring peace to Ide and Ntebe? “I don’t know how people will feel about me marrying someone of a lower status than me,” Ona says. “They will castigate me and wonder why I gave up comfort.”
Although branded as fantasy, the majority of the narrative takes place in the real world rather than Luenah, a choice that might disappoint readers desiring the fantastic. Despite this, Aligwekwe deftly weaves commentary on colonialism, imperialism, and capitalism into an appealing and suspenseful story of love and whimsy. She presents many nuggets of wisdom as Ona seeks her life’s purpose, while emphasizing that “Two things must occur for love to be manifested. The first is to believe you’re worthy of love. The second is to love yourself.”
Takeaway: Young adults and older readers will be enchanted by this fantasy’s magic, romance, and life lessons.
Great for fans of: Helen Oyeyemi’s Gingerbread, Nandi Taylor’s Given.
Design and typography: A-
Marketing copy: A-
When Ona's grandfather suddenly dies, Ona finds herself journeying to the land of Luenah; there to discover her powers as an Eri, tasked with a mission beyond personal desire in The Place Beyond Her Dreams.
Young adults who choose Ona's adventure for its foray into magical realms will find its theme of personal empowerment an added bonus to an adventure story that follows Ona's exploration of her abilities and place in the world.
Ona finds herself in the middle of a war, where palaces and kings enter into her worldview of her place in a greater scheme of things. As The Place Beyond Her Dreams evolves, young readers will find that Ona's true destiny lies beyond political conflict and blossoming abilities, affecting her perceptions of her future course.
Set to marry Albert, Ona finds that her real task lies elsewhere. Even though her safety and that of her family lies in making these ties, there is a greater purpose at large which changes her destiny. Ona's actions may have created a mess, but she's determined not to involve her family more than they already are, and thinks she can fix things herself. But, can she?
The Place Beyond Her Dreams blends magic with real-world issues of cultural interactions, abuse, and tragedy. It will attract both fantasy and contemporary readers by blending these two scenarios, adding Ona's first-person perceptions about her changed circumstances and her role in transforming them: "I now considered my life as being separated into two sections; life before Okem and life after Okem. Before Okem, was carefree, fun, and glorious. After Okem, was constrained, dreary, and violent."
The story's unique combination of forays into self and the wider world create compelling scenarios in which the determined young woman must achieve the impossible to set things right and regain her life.
Young adults ages 13 and up will find The Place Beyond Her Dreams an inviting, thought-provoking adventure that surveys family, communities, and the power and consequences of personal decisions.
If you are looking for a traditional parable with a strong moral center look no further than Oby Aligwekwe’s The Place Beyond Her Dreams. Set in Africa between two warring towns, this tale of Ona’s coming of age is sure to inspire young adult readers with messages about the consequences of our choices, the difficult journey to find our own power and purpose, and how to find our way back when we go astray. There are plenty of twists and turns along Ona’s journey that will likely surprise and enthrall young adult readers. Be aware there is a darker thematic element dealing with physical abuse and overcoming its repercussions that is not graphic in nature.
Ona’s grandfather is a dignified and respected chief of Ntebe which has been at odds with its neighboring town of Ide for many years. When the household takes in Ona from Ntebe and an older boy named Okem from Ide, the two children bond quickly and become steadfast companions as they grow up together. Enter the most eligible bachelor in the region, the Crown Prince Albert who has taken a fancy to Ona and begins courting her.
Choosing between the men she loves is no easy thing. Their contrasting personalities and perspectives offer Ona the possibility of happiness in different ways. Okem is a kind-hearted, wise, and gentle protector while Albert believes in more traditional ways that may have outgrown their purpose in the modern world. While riots continue to escalate in the towns, Ona’s relationship with both men is at the center of her conflict as she struggles to find strength from the trials placed before her by her own actions.
Integral to Ona’s story is the paradise of Luenah, a fantastical place only some chosen people can access. It serves as a place of wisdom where her grandfather’s spirit gives her a special box as a rite of passage. To stay in Luenah, Ona must place something of great value in the box. Finding the answer to what that is surrounds the central conflict of the tale. By the end of the story, Ona and the readers may come to understand that our journey is often the destination itself even if we wander or fall from our path from time to time. It is in those places that we are tested and have the potential to become stronger than we ever thought possible.