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Zahrah the Windseeker

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Overview

In the Ooni Kingdom, children born dada—with vines growing in their hair—are rumored to have special powers. Zahrah Tsami doesn’t know anything about that. She feels normal. Others think she’s different—they fear her. Only Dari, her best friend, isn’t afraid of her. But then something begins to happen—something that definitely marks Zahrah as different—and 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...

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Overview

In the Ooni Kingdom, children born dada—with vines growing in their hair—are rumored to have special powers. Zahrah Tsami doesn’t know anything about that. She feels normal. Others think she’s different—they fear her. Only Dari, her best friend, isn’t afraid of her. But then something begins to happen—something that definitely marks Zahrah as different—and 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.

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Editorial Reviews

KLIATT - KaaVonia Hinton
To quote the review of the hardcover in KLIATT, September 2005: Far away, in the world of Ginen, 14-year-old Zahrah Tsami lives with her parents in the Ooni Kingdom. Born dada, she has dadalocks, clumps of hair with vines attached. Legend and myth surround dada people. Do they have strange powers? Are they rebellious? Are they wise? Adolescence in Ooni, where citizens have access to hydrogen and flora-powered cars, videophones, and netevisions and where Earth is a mere myth, seems somewhat familiar. Like Earthlings, Zahrah finds adolescence awkward: classmates ridicule her and she is startled when she menstruates for the first time. But then she begins to levitate. It is a while before she confides in anyone, and when she does, she is told by a dada woman to simply practice. Zahrah and her friend Dari decide that the Forbidden Greeny Jungle is the best place to practice because few people are brave enough to tarry there. After only a few visits to the jungle, a war snake bites Dari and his doctor informs the family that he will never regain consciousness unless the cure is obtained. Feeling responsible, Zahrah sets out on a perilous journey through the jungle armed with a largely inaccurate digi-book titled The Forbidden Greeny Jungle Field Guide, and a talking compass. While in the jungle for three weeks, Zahrah's safety is threatened as panthers discuss the possibility of eating her, spiders the size of small children taste her with their feet, and Greeny Gorillas offer her refuge. With a little help from a pink frog, she manages to secure the antidote—the yolk of a deadly Elgort's unfertilized egg. Her rite of passage is complete, having saved her best friend's life,faced her fears, and fully embraced her own identity. Teachers, scholars, and students who are interested in fantasy influenced by African culture and the theme of flight that permeates much African American literature by black women will appreciate this book. Reviewer: KaaVonia Hinton, Ph.D.
KLIATT
Far away, in the world of Ginen, 14-year-old Zahrah Tsami lives with her parents in the Ooni Kingdom. Born dada, she has dadalocks, clumps of hair with vines attached. Legend and myth surround dada people. Do they have strange powers? Are they rebellious? Are they wise? Adolescence in Ooni, where citizens have access to hydrogen and flora-powered cars, videophones, and netevisions and where Earth is a mere myth, seems somewhat familiar. Like Earthlings, Zahrah finds adolescence awkward: classmates ridicule her and she is startled when she menstruates for the first time. But then she begins to levitate. It is a while before she confides in anyone, and when she does, she is told by a dada woman to simply practice. Zahrah and her friend Dari decide that the Forbidden Greeny Jungle is the best place to practice because few people are brave enough to tarry there. After only a few visits to the jungle, a war snake bites Dari and his doctor informs the family that he will never regain consciousness unless the cure is obtained. Feeling responsible, Zahrah sets out on a perilous journey through the jungle armed with a largely inaccurate digi-book titled The Forbidden Greeny Jungle Field Guide, and a talking compass. While in the jungle for three weeks, Zahrah's safety is threatened as panthers discuss the possibility of eating her, spiders the size of small children taste her with their feet, and Greeny Gorillas offer her refuge. With a little help from a pink frog, she manages to secure the antidote—the yolk of a deadly Elgort's unfertilized egg. Her rite of passage is complete, having saved her best friend's life, faced her fears, and fully embraced her own identity. Teachers,scholars, and students who are interested in fantasy influenced by African culture and the theme of flight that permeates much African American literature by black women will appreciate this book. KLIATT Codes: JSA—Recommended for junior and senior high school students, advanced students, and adults. 2005, Houghton Mifflin, 320p., Ages 12 to adult.
—KaaVonia Hinton
VOYA
Zahrah Tsami is a unique child. Her long dadalocks are intertwined with vines and attract various comments and stares from the people of Ooni. They fear Zahrah's appearance because it reminds them of the past and the knowledge of the Windseekers. Zahrah does her best to ignore them with the help of her friend, Dari. Dari is also different from the other Ooni children. He longs to explore the Forbidden Greeny Jungle and discover its dark and prohibited mysteries. Dari's curiosity gets the better of him when he is bitten by a war snake and falls into a deep sleep. Zahrah must find the courage within and harness her dada wisdom to help Dari overcome his deadly slumber. Okorafor-Mbachu creates an outstanding science fiction/fantasy novel complete with exotic creatures, a magical forest, and children with superhuman abilities. The author describes the country of Ooni, its creatures, and people as if she has seen them all firsthand. The Forbidden Greeny Jungle comes alive for Zahrah after she discovers her incredible talent. Readers will struggle along with Zahrah as she scours the jungle for Dari's cure. This beautifully written story addresses the ideas of friendship, self-discovery, and following one's heart. True fans of science fiction/fantasy novels will not want to miss out on this incredible story. VOYA CODES: 5Q 4P J S (Hard to imagine it being any better written; Broad general YA appeal; Junior High, defined as grades 7 to 9; Senior High, defined as grades 10 to 12). 2005, Houghton Mifflin, 308p., Ages 12 to 18.
—Jonatha Masters
Children's Literature
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 fly—as 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.
—Kathleen Isaacs
School Library Journal
Gr 5-7-Zahrah was born with dadalocks-dreadlocks containing living vines. Although she lives in a world in which nature provides everything (even computers grow from seeds), being dada is cause for scorn. Then she discovers that it also means that she can call the wind and fly. She and her friend Dari enter the Forbidden Greeny Jungle that borders their kingdom to explore her powers, but when he is bitten by a poisonous snake, Zahrah must set off alone in search of an elgort egg to save him. Her adventures are full of encounters with talking animals and peril; unfortunately, the excitement is dulled because readers know that everything will be fine from the start. References to Alice in Wonderearth abound (to Zahrah, Earth is a legend), and some of her journey (particularly advice received from a pink frog reminiscent of the Cheshire Cat) seems like an attempt to create an Africa-infused Alice tale. There are also nods to Douglas Adams's The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (S & S, 1981) that are unlikely to resonate with the intended audience. The world-building is interesting, and Zahrah's journey to self-acceptance is obvious but satisfying; the important theme of exploring, rather than fearing, the unknown is heavy-handed. Because there is little African science fiction written for young readers, comparisons with Nancy Farmer's The Ear, the Eye and the Arm (Scholastic, 1994) are inevitable, but this story lacks much of the complexity of Farmer's work.-Karyn N. Silverman, Elizabeth Irwin High School, New York City Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A girl ventures into a forbidden jungle to save her friend in this botanically creative fantasy. Thirteen-year-old Zahrah lives on a planet where all technology from lights to computer networks is comprised of live plants. But only Zahrah has plants growing in her hair; they've been there since birth and show that she's dada (magical). Supportive parents and best friend Dari can't assuage Zahrah's pain at being taunted about it. However, when Dari and Zahrah venture into the Forbidden Greeny Jungle and a poisonous snake bites Dari, only Zahrah has the courage to seek the antidote. She walks over 300 miles into the lush, terrifying jungle bursting with fantastical plants and creatures. Completion of her quest requires learning to fly, a dada ability that she's been slowly mastering. Okorafor-Mbachu leans on exclamation points for emphasis and cliches for morality; however, bursts of humor, exotic flora and fauna and the unusual combination of Nigerian-based culture with children's fantasy make this worth the read. (Fantasy. 9-12)
From the Publisher
"A welcome addition to a genre sorely in need of more heroes and heroines of color." ––Booklist Booklist, ALA

Teachers, scholars, and students...will appreciate this book.
KLIATT

"...Refreshingly different, Zahrah's coming-of-age story introduces...a vibrant new world."—Bulletin Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780547020280
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • Publication date: 2/18/2008
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 320
  • Sales rank: 273,613
  • Age range: 12 years
  • Lexile: 720L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 5.00 (w) x 7.00 (h) x 0.75 (d)

Meet the Author

Nnedi Okorafor-Mbachu’s short stories have been published in anthologies and magazines, including Dark Matter II, Strange Horizons, and Writers of the Future, Volume XVIII. Nnedi lives with her daughter, Anyaugo, and family in Illinois.

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Read an Excerpt

Prologue My World When I was born, my mother took one look at me and laughed.
“She’s . . . dada,” said the doctor, looking surprised. “I can see that,” my mother replied with a smile. She took me in her arms and gently touched one of the thick clumps of hair growing from my little head. I had dadalocks, and woven inside each one of those clumps was a skinny, light green vine. Contrary to what a lot of people think, these vines didn’t sprout directly from my head. Instead, they were more like plants that had attached themselves to my hair as I grew inside my mother’s womb. Imagine that! To be born with vines growing in your hair! But that’s the nature of dada people, like myself.
“Look, she’s smiling,” my father said. “As if she already knows she’s dada.” To many, to be dada meant you were born with strange powers. That you could walk into a room and a mysterious wind would knock things over or clocks would automatically stop; that your mere presence would cause flowers to grow underneath the soil instead of above. That you caused things to rebel or that you would grow up to be rebellious yourself! And what made things even worse was that I was a girl, and only boys and men were supposed to be rebellious. Girls were supposed to be soft, quiet, and pleasant. Thankfully, when I was born, my parents were open-minded, well educated, and familiar with some of the older stories about dada people. These stories said that the dada-born were destined to be wise beings, not necessarily rebels. As a result, my parents didn’t cut my hair, and they weren’t scared by it either. Instead they let it grow and, as I got older, made sure I understood that being dada was not a curse. In fact, it was a blessing, because it was a part of me, they said. Of course I didn’t feel this way when I was old enough to go to school and my classmates called me names. Now I’m fourteen and my dada hair has grown way down my back. Also, the vines inside are thicker and dark green. Sometimes all this hair is heavy, but I’m used to it. My mother says it forces me to hold my head up higher.

********

A large part of the culture in the northern Ooni Kingdom where I live is to look “civilized.” That’s northern slang for stylish. There’s no way the typical northerner would go outside without wearing his or her most civilized clothes and looking clean and nice. Not even for a second. We all carry mirrors in our pockets, and we take them out every so often to inspect our reflection and make sure we look good. On top of that, our clothes click with tiny style mirrors embedded into the collars and hems. They’re really lovely. I have a dress with style mirrors sewn all over it. Sometimes when I’m alone I like to put it on and dance in the sunlight. The reflections from the little mirrors look like white insects dancing along with me. My people love to use mirrors everywhere, actually. If you go to the downtown area of the great city of Ile-Ife, you’ll understand what I’m talking about. Downtown, many giant plant towers reach high into the sky. In my history class, I learned that every year, the ten tallest plant towers grow ten inches higher and five inches wider and that they’re thousands of years old. At one time, long ago, they weren’t even inhabited by human beings, as they are now. There were no elevators or computer networks or offices or living spaces inside. They were just big big plants! The Ooni Palace Tower is the tallest (standing 4,188 feet high) and oldest of them all. That’s where the chief of Ooni and his counsel reside. The top of the building blooms into a giant blue flower with purple petals. My father told me that this flower serves as a netevision transmitter for most of the Ooni Kingdom. Even this far north in Kirki, it’s a beautiful sight, especially at night. Anyway, from up in any of the plant towers, you can see the north with all its mirrors shining like a giant galaxy, especially on sunny days. Our homes and buildings are encrusted with thousands of mirrors, inside and out. And there’s always sand in the streets from those messy trucks transporting the grains to the factories to make even more mirrors.
Some like to say that northerners are arrogant and vain. But it’s just our culture. And look at the four other ethnic groups of the Ooni Kingdom. They have unique customs, too. I just find them interesting, as opposed to wrong.
The northwesterners cook all day and most of the night! Over there you can practically eat the air, and everyone is gloriously fat! The people of the southwest are as obsessed with beads as we northerners are with mirrors. People wear them everywhere: around their ankles, arms, necks, on their clothes. The people of the southeast make aall things metal. I’ve never been there, but I hear that the people always have soot on their faces and the air there is not fresh because of all the metalwork. And northeasterners are masters of architecture and botany, the study of plants. All the best books about plants are written by northeasterners, be they about pruning your office building or growing and maintaining the perfect personal computer from CPU seed to adult PC.
But despite all our diverse knowledge and progress here in Ooni, my dada nature and hair will never be truly accepted, not here in the north or anywhere else in Ooni. During the past two weeks, I’ve been doing some research, and now I’m starting to understand the reason for this prejudiced attitude. It’s not just the northern culture that made people react badly to my dada hair. It’s a general fear of the unknown that plagues the entire society of the Ooni Kingdom, a discomfort with things that may have been forgotten. And maybe my hair gives people a glimpse of memories they can’t quite remember. Have you ever tried to recall something but couldn’t and it was right on the tip of your tongue? It’s not a good feeling, is it? It’s irritating, and sometimes you’d rather not remember anything at all. That’s how it is here in Ooni, with the past, I think.

Copyright © 2005 by Nnedi Okorafor-Mbachu. Reprinted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Company.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 21 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 21 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 6, 2014

    Awesome!

    My only critique of this book is that I wished the author would show more rather than tell.

    But besides that this book is definitely one my favorites.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 19, 2013

    Poop

    ,mmm

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 8, 2008

    A heroic story!

    Wow, I loved this book! It's a very heroic story of a girl named zahrah wandering into the forbiden greeny jungle to save her best friend. It sends a really good message that you can do anything as long as you put your mind to it. And anything is possible. Such a good fairytale! Great and quick read for anyone!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 10, 2008

    Zahrah

    This book is fantastic I couldn't put it down

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 9, 2008

    Delightfully told Fairytale

    Zahrah the Windseeker by Nnedi Okorafor-Mbachu is a wonderfully written fairytale. This story is for anyone who would like to escape reality and jump back into their childhood made up of dreams and fantasies. Zahrah is a thirteen year old girl with a rare gift which no one is entirely sure what she will be able to do. Born with vines growing in her hair, she has bee taunted beyond tears most of her life. Very shy, withdrawn with low self confidence and a deadly fear of heights she is about to find herself doing things she never would have remotely considered. Dari is a fifteen year old boy and quite the daring adventurer. Always wanting to do the forbidden, his insatiable curiosity leads him into a life and death situation that will change forever how the people in his city look at life and what it has to offer. The story starts off with our two characters supporting each other with their problems and how to deal with them. They are the best of friends and can share anything with each other without fear of ridicule or chance of gossip. They are indeed true friends beyond the sense of the word. After Dari is attacked and left in a coma it is up to Zahrah to go into the Forbidden Greeny Jungle to find the one item that may save her friend from a possible permenant coma to quite likely death. Does she have the courage and stamina to accomplish such a task. This is something she is about to find out the hard way. Relying on an out dated field guide Zahrah sets off to find her way through the Jungle braving all kinds of horrible creatures and plants, eating what is available and taking chances that she will not be poisoned in the process. She soon finds out that the field guide has only the basic information when it decides to give it and she must rely on her on intuition to help her accomplish something that has not been done by an adult in many years and has never been tried by a child. The author has given us an amazing story of love, devotion and courage that it was a true delight to read. I can actually envision being a child in a village at dusk with an elder sitting there telling all the children of this marvelous tale. It is highly colorful, intriguing and encouraging to say the least. A delight for teens and adults this tale should not be missed.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 6, 2005

    One of a Kind!

    These days there is a lot of wonderful young adult fantasy in bookstores. Nevertheless, Zahrah the Windseeker is still one of a kind, for it is the only young adult fantasy novel out there that is African from its very center. In the world of Ginen (which in Voodoo, is the name of what slaves imagined Africa to be¿since many could not remember¿but in this novel, Ginen is a whole other world), Zahrah is dada (in Nigerian culture, this is a child literally born with dreadlocked hair- these children are believed to hold special powers). When Zahrah learns that she has special powers, this realization leads her to the adventure of her life. Okorafor-Mbachu takes from the myth of the flying Africans. In this case, it goes even father because Okorafor-Mbachu is Igbo, just as those Africans of the flying Africans myth of South Carolina were. The fascinating thing is that aside from African American and African myth and culture, Okorafor-Mbachu blends in elements of the fantasy genre. There¿s a hilarious homage to Douglas Adam¿s Hitchhiker¿s Guide to the Galaxy, the novel¿s got magical creatures and beasts that easily rival those in Star Wars world, and there are science fictional elements that are really fascinating- like computers that grow from seeds. Zahrah the Windseeker is a fresh and new type of fantasy and Zahrah¿s adventure is will definitely raise your heart rate! I can¿t wait to read her next novel.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 17, 2005

    Zahrah the Windseeker

    Magical...creative...imaginative!!! In the traditional of exceptional young adult fantasy writers, Okorafor-Mbachu's debut novel represents the next generation of fantastical heroines. Okorafor-Mbachu creates a world where nothing is exactly what it appears to be, teaching us all that anything is possible and a young girl is capable of the wondrous. I urge every parent to share this treasure with their children and everyone else to share the fantasy too. Trust me folks, there is a lesson to be learned here!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 19, 2005

    intelligent

    i really enjoyed reading this book, it kind of takes you into a fantasy world.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 17, 2005

    Zahrah the Windseeker

    The is the first fantasy I¿ve encountered that features a female heroine and takes place in a land that sounds a lot like Africa¿with its distinctive regions and citizens, its vibrant, exotic open-air markets and a lush forest populated with unique flora and fauna. I loved the character of Zahrah, a young, somewhat introverted but thoughtful teen, who ultimately learns to value her individuality (including her ¿dada¿ hair and new-found ability to fly) and to use her gifts and talents to save her best friend¿s life. When Dari is bitten by a snake during one of their forays into the forbidden Greeny Jungle, Zahrah determines to enter the forest and face whatever terrors abide there, in order to find and retrieve the antidote to the poison. The awesome trek that follows makes many physical, emotional and spiritual demands upon her, but her determination and growing confidence are aided by forest creatures who respect her diligence on a cause most called ¿impossible.¿ This exciting story delivers an ageless truth to young readers: In your unique self, you are are endowed with the tools you need to live a life of purpose and wonder. Highly recommended.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 4, 2005

    Zahrah the Windseeker

    I flew through this novel in two days! I¿ve never read a fantasy book like this. I think the author is African and she (I think) created this fantastical world using African cultures and folklore. I¿ve read Virginia Hamilton¿s ¿The People Could Fly,¿ maybe she got some of the myth from that. But I also noticed elements from the Hitchhiker¿s Guide to the Galaxy (it has a similar kind of humor) and Harry Potter. This is definitely something new and I really enjoyed it! I especially loved all the crazy creatures, the realistic characters and the plant technology. It read smooth and fast. I¿m glad I found this book. Very unique.

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    Posted August 11, 2010

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    Posted August 1, 2009

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    Posted December 23, 2009

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    Posted November 24, 2008

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