In the Ooni Kingdom, children born dadawith vines growing in their hairare rumored to have special powers. Zahrah Tsami doesn’t know anything about that. She feels normal. Others think she’s differentthey fear her. Only Dari, her best friend, isn’t afraid of her. But then something begins to happensomething that definitely marks Zahrah as differentand the only person she can tell is Dari. He pushes her to investigate, edging them both closer and closer to danger. Until Dari’s life is on the line. Only Zahrah can save him, but to do so she’ll have to face her worst fears alone, including the very thing that makes her different.
The vines that grow in her hair set 14-year-old Zahrah apart and make her feel inferior, but when her friend Dari is bitten by a poisonous snake, she braves the Forbidden Greeny Jungle to get the antidote, learning much about herself and her world in the process. Zahrah is dada, born with strange powers, although she has barely begun to recognize them. She is most frightened by the possibility that she can flyas she is afraid of heights. Little by little, Zahrah ventures out of the familiar, first to the Dark Market, then to the edges of the jungle, and finally deep inside where she meets the Greeny Gorillas, animals so wise they reject the technology of her world. Young African-American girls will recognize themselves in Zahrah's concern with her dadalocks and her sense of style, and will applaud her growing sense of self-respect as she conquers her fears of the forest and of flying. The plot is a familiar quest pattern fantasy but set in an unfamiliar off-Earth world where the technology and even the living structures are vegetable. It is the marvelously imaginative details of the plant and animal life, both in the city and in the mysterious jungle that are the strength of this book. Middle grade readers who seek new fantasy worlds will enjoy this one and hope for more. 2005, Houghton Mifflin, Ages 10 to 14.