I'll admit it: I think this book is waaaaaaay overhyped. As accolades and awards continue to fall upon this critical darling I find myself once again in the small camp of people who remain Unimpressed. Look, plenty has been written about this book already so I'll try to make this as succinct as I can.
What was working for me:
It kept me turning pages. (And boy howdy are there a lot of pages.) I could have skipped out on this one at any point, but I kept with it despite it's many failings. It is very readable. Picking it up wasn't a chore even when I wasn't particularly enjoying the story. And really, I think that's one of the reasons it is so popular - readable books get read, and the more people who read a book the more popular it generally becomes just by merit of it being read. Nonetheless the story moves along at a decent clip, and the characters move from place to place, which kept me turning pages. It also has some diversity that I know appeals to a lot of people. (More on that later.)
What wasn't working for me:
First and foremost the writing just isn't great. I don't just mean the storytelling, I mean the nuts and bolts of the craft. If I were to pick one thing in this book that drove me up the wall it was how often thoughts and dialogue were cut off with a dash. It happens on almost every page. Don't believe me? Go look. I'll wait. ... See what I mean? It also has sections that are written like a teenager's blog post. Capitalizing Every Word For Emphasis. Or doing the annoying thing where you do a paragraph break after every word
Stop that. Please. There are books where these devices could work, like a contemporary teen book told in journal entries, but not here. Just stop.
It also has some teen trappings that make me very tired, most notably over the top angst and insta-love that goes way beyond the norm. In my opinion the relationships in this book are really problematic, icky, and could give you whiplash with how quickly they snap back and forth. I'm not even going to get into it because I feel like that's an entire rant, and I really just don't want to write a dissertation on abusive relationships in teen literature right now. Needless to say, I really loathed these aspects. Here's the thing though: I'm willing to cut the book some slack in this arena. It's a teen book, and it's not written for me. That's fine. I don't enjoy it, but I get why it's there.
My final gripe is more slippery, but ultimately it's the thing that I find most damning. The story and characters are not original. At all. And I don't feel like the book reads as diverse either. Hear me out. The entire time I was reading it I felt like I was reading Avatar the Last Airbender fanfic. It really felt like something you might find on AO3. (Which is fine, but not what I expect over an awards winner.) The diversity also felt very surface level. This book is supposed to be a made up fantasy world, sure, but it's also supposed to have a Nigerian influence. And it just doesn't read that way to me. Yes, the characters are black, which I think is refreshing and good for representation, but that's as far as it goes. It feels like a diverse cast set in a very standard rote American story. (In video game terms it felt like someone just palette swapped the characters and called them new.) I'm less impressed with diverse casts than I am with diverse narratives and storytelling. It's a complicated distinction, but one I hope becomes more apparent as we get more and more books hitting shelves that are written by, and feature, more diverse voices. (If you're looking for an example of what I mean by a diverse narrative try something by Nnedi Okorafor. Just one example of many.) For me this book fell short in this arena.
I think my expectations were too high. I might have liked this one more if it wasn't so praised and celebrated. As is for me it was just another average, exceedingly mediocre, teen fantasy read, and that disappointed me. It's fine, but I was expecting something special. Your milage, obviously, may vary.