Binti [the Badass Feminist Heroine] – A Beautifully Written Sci-Fi Novella for Younger Readers

bintiBinti by Nnedi Okorafor
First published on September 22, 2015
Tor Books
Source: I bought it

“Her name is Binti, and she is the first of the Himba people ever to be offered a place at Oomza University, the finest institution of higher learning in the galaxy. But to accept the offer will mean giving up her place in her family to travel between the stars among strangers who do not share her ways or respect her customs. Knowledge comes at a cost, one that Binti is willing to pay, but her journey will not be easy. If Binti hopes to survive the legacy of a war not of her making, she will need both the the gifts of her people and the wisdom enshrined within the University, itself — but first she has to make it there, alive.” Source: Macmillan.



How I wish I had been reading books like Binti growing up instead of Nancy Drew! While the latter firmly serves to reinforce all stereotypes known to humanity (blonde = beautiful perfection; brunette = chubby side-kick; non-white = ….. [non-existent]; materialism = rah, rah! etc and so on)- Binti unapologetically forges her own path, seeks her own meaning, explodes structural barriers sustained by history for generations: she is, in other words, one fully badass feminist heroine I’d want my (hypothetical) young daughter emulating.

Before I go any further, I really want to give a HUGE shoutout to Bina @ifyoucanreadthis, who first introduced me to Okorafor, to Naz @readdiversebooks for also recommending Okorafor, and in general the #diversebookblogger community for encouraging me to expand my reading selection, and for opening up so many new worlds of books to me.

Ok – back to the review: this slim 2015 Nebula-award winning novella follows Binti, a young woman from the Himba tribe on Earth, who, against all odds, recommendations, and traditions, is accepted to Oomza University, the most prestigious in the galaxy (on another planet). This is just the beginning of her story (the first in a new series): an introduction to the Himba and Khoush people, the Meduse (a seemingly hostile, non-human race), as well as Binti’s spaceship travel to and arrival at Oomza Uni.

The Himbas are a spiritual tribe, intimately connected to their land/place of origin. Their primary occupation is that of “harmonizers” – crafters of astorables for all Earthly races (an astorable is a smart-device that can do pretty much anything, by tapping into the mathematical ‘waves’ of the world). Himbas rarely leave their land, in fact they wear the clay of their home on their skin and hair (in a paste, otjize, featured on the cover), so Binti’s desire to attend Oomza Uni breaks all precedent.

On her journey, Binti forges relationships with both Meduse and with the Khoush people (The Koush are metropolitan dwellers, an affluent race of pale skinned humans that uses the Himbas-everyone needs an astorable!—but does not usually deign to interact or forge relationships with them). She bravely and with youthful sincerity and non-duplicity seeks to understand all those whom she encounters, and uses her harmonizing skills to heal relationships and resolve strife, even violent situations. This is all while being the sole Himba on the spaceship and at Oomza, without the support of family or, at first, fiends.

As other reviewers have written, the science in Binti is not articulated at length, and seems light at times, maybe an afterthought. As a math teacher, well, I definitely wasn’t feeling the “mathematical waves” that Binti tapped into as a harmonizer (but there certainly are physical waves permeating everything, and if you believe string theory, all is constituted of tiny vibrating strings…) So, true, this is not ‘hard’ science-fiction, BUT, these are my two rationalizations for upping the rating to 5 anyway:

(1) This book is for younger people; it could be read as early as 2nd-4th grade I’m guessing for advanced readers (then again I teach math to 12th graders, not primary-school English). I would have still enjoyed it in high-school, and I read it as an adult, but I’m not going to dock off points for the science not being fully worked out as it would be in an adult or even YA novel.

(2) For its intended audience, this is absolutely the most brilliant exploration of race, gender, identity, belonging, social-justice, peace-as-a-solution, and so many more crucial topics I have ever read.

*⌈the ceiling function rounds up to the nearest integer⌉


  1. I look forward to seeing the world of Binti explored further in later novellas. I agree that some of the science-fiction elements were not fleshed-out enough for my liking, but I attributed that to its novella format.

    I also think you’re right that it would be a great story for younger readers, although I don’t think it was written with that intention.

    The entire concept of this series fascinates me and I would love nothing more than to see a live-action film or TV mini-series. Can you imagine!?

    Btw, this review totally counts for my new feature, Read Diverse Books Year-Round. You should add your review for a chance to win a free book. 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Naz! So this was one of the first novellas I have read… I think this would be great to read at any age (hahaha I won’t give away mine but let’s say it’s a tad over 30 – and I did LOVE this book). Looking back though I think I would have enjoyed it much more as a younger person. I tried to rate it based on what I may have thought then, instead of how I feel now (probably more like a 3.5, because of the non-fleshed-out science). Plus I didn’t want to be the math teacher raining on the party 😉 A live-action mini-series of this WOULD be awesome, YES! And thank you so much for the invitation – I may, but I have sooo many books right now on my to-read-shelf that I think I won’t take away chances from others to win a free book this round. Thank you so much though! xx

      Liked by 1 person

  2. *⌈the ceiling function rounds up to the nearest integer⌉
    *insert happy emoji* 😛

    Great review! I didn’t like it as much as you because I did not see it as book for younger readers and so I had some problems with the world and the science behind it. Also for a book about representation, it didn’t have as uch diversity as I would have liked; the humans seems to be either Himba or Koush and the only alien race: the Meduses. Even at Oomza Uni, we didn’t get the opportunity to see other ones. I know its a novella but it still frustrated me toward the end..
    But still, I am glad that you enjoyed it!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much Maryam! So honestly this was hard for me to rate because I’m definitely older now (um… I’m at the point where I don’t say my age anymore but let’s say I’ve recently passed the 30-year milestone). I tried to imagine what I may have thought in my teens – and honestly, the main way I justified my ‘5’ was by categorizing this as a book for younger readers (though everyone is pointing out that’s not how it was intended). For age 12, for ex. I think this book is fabulous, but, like you point out, for more critical, older readers, there are definitely problems with the science and representation. Still, way better in that latter regard than what I used to read at that age (Nancy Drew…)


  3. As I was reading this brilliant review, I spotted your Goodreads TBR list notes, and could not suppress my laugh because:

    “To Do: Write scathing letter to editors at Simon & Schuster for even considering publishing such a filthy rotting piece of trash – FOR CHILDREN!!! FOR CHILDREN, I TELL YOU; work on this review. So far, this comment takes the cake: ”

    You literally took the words out of my mouth. You are a honestly such a wonderful person! Okay, onto your review.
    I think the premise of the book is so intriguing, and one I feel that I can relate to a lot personally. Exploring it through the sci-fi paradigm is so interesting. I wouldn’t mind so much about the lack of scientific or mathematical explanations (as I’m not too knowledgeable about that myself) so I’d really enjoy reading this. Great review!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much Fatima! Haha, those GR notes were definitely inspired by you!! Hey – if you ever need someone to get mad with you about stuff like that or to vent to, I’m your girl all the way 🙂

      This book is pretty short – something like 65 pages, so it’s not fully worked out, but what is there is wonderful. Overall I was definitely convinced that I would like to read more Okorafor, her voice is so refreshing, especially in sci-fi (most of which I’ve read has been written by stuffy old white men).

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Yes so happy Binti managed to convince you despite the issue with the maths! 🙂
    I didn’t read this as a book for younger readers, but also think that a lot of aspects introduced could not be given more space because of the novella format. I’m so happy there will be two more Binti stories and perhaps these will adress that. Though I’m glad I didn’t have to take on string theory to learn Binti’s story 😀 I need a lot of handholding for math.

    I’ll add the link of your review to my Binti post if that’s alright with you!? 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Bina – thank you so much for the recommendation, and yes of course linking would be so much appreciated 🙂

      All others who have read this are telling me what you are, that it was not meant for younger readers. Honestly it’s very hard for me to tell, because I’m… um… over 30 now (at the age when I don’t give my age anymore ;)) – so I was trying to imagine when I may have enjoyed this and what I would have thought as a younger person. I definitely would have loved a series like this in HS when all I was reading was Sweet Valley High and Nancy Drew -it would have opened my eyes about the world much sooner than when my awakening to issues like privilege happened (college). And I can also see myself loving this in late elementary, when I was reading stuff like Mark Twain. I think in the end I categorized it like that because it seemed so short and not fully worked out but you’re right in that that’s probably more a factor of it being a novella. (I’m not sure I’ve even read a novella before).

      Overall though even at ‘my age’ I loved it, and I definitely look forward to reading some full-length Okorafor novels soon 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Haha good to meet someone else who’s old 😁 I’m 30 so I feel like an old cat lady sometimes around all those perky young new bloggers. I think you make a good point though that Binti is a story and character that could appeal to younger audiences and give them an amazing heroine of color 😊

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Awe how cute! I have two at my parents since I move often. Currently staying with them so they star in my instagram a lot. Totally plan on being on old cat lady tho 😁

        Liked by 1 person

  5. I waited to read this review because I bought Binti on Amazon right before you posted, and I wanted to read it first. You’re so on point! I devoured Nancy Drew growing up, and would have loved to have had smart novellas with characters I could identify with a bit more. I felt the same way about the mathematics part of it– it could have been a bit better, but didn’t detract from the overall experience.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi! Yay, I am so glad to hear your thoughts on Binti. This was my first Okorafor and it definitely convinced me to go out and put the rest of her books on my tbr shelf.

      Re: Nancy Drew, you know, I never realized at the time how dated it was. Reading it as an adult again a few years ago, I was pretty horrified at how uncritically I read it as a teen, the stereotypes are so blatant to me now, the books reek of the 1930s-1940s vision of “women’s independence” (white, of course, first-wave style, and oozing paternalism – Nancy’s dad is always ready to rescue! As are Ned and his friends). Well I guess in retrospect everything is clear…

      As for the math, I tried my best to overlook it and not get picky – I’m a math teacher and could probably GO ON. Still, to be fair, none of the ideas are actually incorrect or implausible, they just weren’t worked out at all. Which is why Binti 2 coming out in January 2017 is great news 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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