The Door of No Return

door of no return kwame alexander

Dreams are today’s answers for tomorrow’s questions.

11-year-old Kofi Offin dreams of water. Its mysterious, immersive quality. The rich, earthy scent of the current. The clearness, its urgent whisper that beckons with promises and secrets…

Kofi has heard the call on the banks of Upper Kwanta, in the village where he lives. He loves these things above all else: his family, the fireside tales of his father’s father, a girl named Ama, and, of course, swimming. Some say he moves like a minnow, not just an ordinary boy so he’s hoping to finally prove himself in front of Ama and his friends in a swimming contest against his older, stronger cousin.

But before this can take place, a festival comes to the villages of Upper and Lower Kwanta and Kofi’s brother is chosen to represent Upper Kwanta in the wrestling contest. Encircled by cheering spectators and sounding drums, the two wrestlers from different villages kneel, ready to fight.

You are only fine, until you are not.

The match is over before it has barely begun, when the unthinkable–a sudden death–occurs…

The river does not care how grown you are. 

As his world turns upside down, Kofi soon ends up in a fight for his life. What happens next will send him on a harrowing journey across land and sea, and away from everything he loves.---from the publisher

432 pages                              978-0316441865                             Ages 11 and up

Keywords:  historical fiction, Africa, African history,  African American and Black stories, family life, coming of age, novel in verse, trilogy, 19th century, 11 year old, 12 year old, 13 year old


It's one thing to read about American history through dates and names and places...fill in the blanks on the test or circle a multiple choice answer.  It's another thing to learn about a time in history through the eyes and hopes and heart of a character.  This story - historical fiction- takes us back to the 19th century during the reign of Queen Victoria in England (1837-1901) and offers us - if we have the heart and the courage - the chance to live as others lived in this time in the Gold Coast, " a section of the coast of the Gulf of Guinea, in Africa," now Ghana.

We begin with the daily life of Kofi in the schoolroom where the schoolmaster, Mr. Goodluck Phllip,  thinks he knows what Kofi's future can be and how Kofi can get there - and that means learning to speak the Queen's English. It isn't a pretty picture. But Kofi has some dreams of his own. Kofi is a boy on the brink of manhood.  Kofi is a boy with an older brother he can never seem to best.  Kofi is a boy with dreams of a girl named Ama who smells of pine and honey. You can feel his desire to believe in himself and find his own excellence.

Kofi is surrounded by the customs and traditions of his family who have lived for generations in Upper Kwanta where gold is king.  His father has an important job with the gold mining that supports everyone in the Upper Kingdom and as luck would have it, Kofi's brother, Kwasi,  has been chosen to represent his people in the upcoming wrestling match at the annual Kings Festival.

Kofi sees himself standing on the edge of manhood ready to take on responsibilities all the while he struggles with his teacher, his cousin, his brother, and his feelings for Ama. When will the men of his family see him as the man he believes he is becoming?

Kwame Alexander has written to us about brothers before.  You know him through CROSSOVER and BOOKED.  Here he weaves us a story that delivers the sounds, the scents, the feel of the air in the world where we are guests given a privileged opportunity to step into the minds of Kofi and his family where we can experience what they loved and how they lived their hours and their days when they had freedom and self-determination. Bringing them to life for us, letting us hear their innermost feelings and dreams, makes an incredibly powerful connection and takes us to an incredibly horrifying place as we get literally caught in the trap that takes Kofi far, far from everything he knows about being alive ... and having a life...and being a human being.

The pages will turn quickly.... but not easily.... as we follow Kofi into darkness. it's a tough read and an essential read. How can we move forward unless we truly walk with Kofi through this nightmare in human history? This is the story of the lives of thousands of human beings and we need to go back and truly acknowledge and experience this visceral "remembering" of the betrayal,  injustice and inhumanity they endured long before the boys of BOOKED and CROSSOVER began their stories.

Book one of a trilogy.

Recommended by: Barb Langridge,

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