The Door of No Return

The Door of No Return

By Author / Illustrator

Kwame Alexander


Historical Fiction

Age range(s)



Andersen Press Ltd








Dreams are today's answers for tomorrow's questions. 11-year-old Kofi Offin has dreams of water, of its urgent whisper that beckons with promises and secrets. He has heard the call on the banks of Upper Kwanta, West Africa, 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. But when the unthinkable - a sudden death - occurs during a festival between rival villages, Kofi 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. Yet Kofi's dreams may be the key to his freedom...

The #1 New York Times bestseller.  'At once vivid and simple, lyrical and surgical, expressive and exacting' Lupita Nyong'o



The Door of No Return by Kwame Alexander is a powerful and stunning verse novel set in the heart of the Ashanti Kingdom in Africa in 1860.  The story follows Kofi Offin, an 11-year-old boy who has an affinity with water, and especially swimming in the Offin River - his friend Ebo claims "He is like a fish in the water". Family, friends and the fireside tales of his grandfather fill his days when he's not at school - where he is bullied by his older and larger cousin, also called Kofi. When his brother announces that he has been selected to participate as a wrestler in the forthcoming Kings Festival contest between the villages of the Upper and Lower Kwanta, Kofi and his family are delighted - both pride and gold are at stake! But the outcome of the final wrestling match will have deadly consequences that will change Kofi's life forever. 

The Door of No Return is a beautiful yet stark piece of storytelling - immediate and breathtaking, emotional and real, showcasing the verse novel at its best. I felt this was a window into a time and culture I knew very little about and it left me wanting to know more. The stories Kofi's grandfather tells, and which start each chapter, are beautifully told, all starting "There was even a time". Whether a story about his birth, history or legend, they set the scene so well for what is to come. 

Kofi Offin is a character you can't fail but to like, full of enthusiasm and keen to know more in a world he doesn't fully understand yet. In fact for all its cultural and time period differences, many themes of the novel are very relatable to young people today - growing up, dealing with school, bullying, families, friendships and rivalries, standing up for what you care about and overcoming adversity.  There are beautiful descriptions  in the novel and for me those where Kofi is swimming in the river are exceptional, where the connection between boy and water is palpable. 

The novel is full of Ashanti culture and language and though it is historical fiction, the author has used the history of the Ashanti people in the area roughly corresponding to Ghana as the basis of the novel. There is a glossary to help translate the Twi words that pepper the novel, a map to follow the adventure on and a guide to places used. Each chapter also starts with a traditional Adinkra symbol used by the Ghanaians  which have meanings linked to the chapter to come (their meanings are described in the back of the novel).

Slavery and slave trade does feature in this novel and I found this section of the story really interesting and at the same time harrowing, seeing how Kofi and others ended up in this situation and seeing it from the enslaved people's point of view. It is worth noting that there are scenes of and references to mutilation, death and abuse in the novel which is something to keep in mind if planning to use this novel with a class.

The Door of No Return provides many opportunities for class work, looking at the history of Ghana and history of the slave trade. There are lots of possibilities for discussion and reflection. Beautiful, stark, breathtaking and devastating with an ending that will have you holding your breath, this is a novel that will stay with you long after finishing. Highly recommended.

430 pages / Reviewed by Stephen, school librarian

Suggested Reading Age 11+


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