The Door of No Return

by Kwame Alexander (Author)

The Door of No Return
Reading Level: 6th — 7th Grade

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.

Kirkus Reviews

Starred Review
A riveting, not-to-be-missed trilogy opener that will leave readers invested in what is to come.

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review

Newbery Medalist Alexander's gripping historical novel in verse, a trilogy opener rooted in the Asante Kingdom in 1860, centers 11-year-old Kofi Offin--a child deeply connected to water. In early, lyrical chapters that evoke a dreamlike childhood, Kofi lives with his family in Upper Kwanta, where he swims in the river that is his namesake, engages with best mate Ebo, crushes on longtime friend Ama, and listens to the tales of his village-storyteller grandfather, Nana Mosi--who details "the past/ like it lives/ in him, / like it still matters." He also clashes with his cousin, a bully, and Mr. Goodluck Phillip, the schoolteacher imparting "the Queen's English" and Shakespeare to students speaking their native Twi. When an annual festival pits wrestlers from Upper and Lower Kwanta against one another, and Kofi's older brother, Kwasi, is set to represent their village, an unexpected death sets off a series of tragedies that upend Kofi's world. Interweaving moments of joyful exuberance and heartbreaking sadness via sensate lines by turns sweet and stinging, Alexander's sweeping novel conjures a captivating, resonant world of African tradition, life, and ancestral wisdom. Ages 10-up. Agent: Arielle Eckstut, Levine Greenberg Rostan Literary. (Sept.)

Copyright 2022 Publishers Weekly, LLC Used with permission.

School Library Journal

Starred Review

Gr 5 Up--The beginning of a planned trilogy set in western Africa in 1860, the latest offering from Newbery winner Alexander introduces readers to Kofi Offin. His experiences are a window to what life would have been like for a boy growing up in that specific place and time. He has a crush on Ama. He loves his grandfather's stories. He has learned English in school but speaks Twi with his family and friends. His cousin bullies him and he challenges him to a swimming race. When Kofi's brother accidentally kills his opponent in a wrestling match, the gentle verse narrative is disrupted because the family of the dead wrestler captures Kofi and his brother. They take them away from their village to the coast; Kofi goes through the door of no return and is put on a boat where things get very bad very quickly. The cliff-hanger ensures that future volumes will tackle the rest of Kofi's story. Books with enslaved main characters certainly exist in juvenile fiction, but the reality of the transatlantic slave trade hasn't been so adeptly captured for young readers to date. This important book is ideal for classroom discussion; shelve alongside Sharon Draper's Copper Sun and Julius Lester's Day of Tears. VERDICT Told in Alexander's lyrical and masterly style, this gritty and compelling novel of Kofi's life should be included in all library collections that serve young readers.--Kristin L. Anderson

Copyright 2022 School Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

Review quotes

"Absolutely spellbinding: Kwame Alexander weaves together storytelling, poetry, music and history like no one else can. An unforgettable journey to be treasured and shared across generations."—Rick Riordan, NYT bestselling author of the Percy Jackson series
Kwame Alexander
Kwame Alexander is a poet, educator, and the New York Times best-selling author of twenty-eight books, including Rebound, the prequel to his Newbery Medal[en dash]winning middle grade novel, The Crossover. Other works include Booked, a National Book Award nominee; The Playbook: 52 Rules to Help You Aim, Shoot, and Score in this Game of Life; and picture books Out of Wonder, Surf's Up, and The Undefeated. The 2018 NEA Read Across America Ambassador, Kwame is also the host and producer of the literary variety/talk show Bookish, which airs on Facebook Watch, the cofounding director of the LEAP for Ghana initiative, and the founding editor of Versify, an imprint of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Books for Young Readers. The recipient of the 2017 Inaugural Pat Conroy Legacy Award, Kwame lives with his family in Virginia.
Twitter and Instagram: @kwamealexander

Dawud Anyabwile is an Emmy Award winning artist, illustrator and co-creator of the groundbreaking comic book series Brotherman: Dictator of Discipline. Anyabwile has worked with companies such as Cartoon Network, Turner Studios, NBA TV, Nickelodeon, and many others as a character designer, storyboard artist, illustrator, and concept artist. Anyabwile illustrated the graphic novel adaptation of the New York Times best selling novel Monster by Walter Dean Myers. Born and raised in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Anyabwile now volunteers, teaches art classes to young students, and gives lectures when he isn't working on his art.
Instagram: @brotehrmancomix
Lexile Measure
Guided Reading Level
Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Publication date
September 20, 2022
BISAC categories
JUV057000 - Juvenile Fiction | Stories in Verse (see also Poetry)
JUV016140 - Juvenile Fiction | Historical | United States - 19th Century
JUV001010 - Juvenile Fiction | Action & Adventure | Survival Stories
JUV039120 - Juvenile Fiction | Social Themes | Prejudice & Racism
JUV016010 - Juvenile Fiction | Historical | Africa
JUV030010 - Juvenile Fiction | People & Places | Africa
Library of Congress categories
19th century
African Americans
United States
Novels in verse
Historical fiction

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