review: what is not yours is not yours

what is not yours is not yours, helen oyeyemi

Hardcover, 336 pages

Published March 8th 2016 by Riverhead Books

Source: Galley giveaway from Publisher


Playful, ambitious, and exquisitely imagined, What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours is cleverly built around the idea of keys, literal and metaphorical. The key to a house, the key to a heart, the key to a secret—Oyeyemi’s keys not only unlock elements of her characters’ lives, they promise further labyrinths on the other side. In “Books and Roses” one special key opens a library, a garden, and clues to at least two lovers’ fates. In “Is Your Blood as Red as This?” an unlikely key opens the heart of a student at a puppeteering school. “‘Sorry’ Doesn’t Sweeten Her Tea” involves a “house of locks,” where doors can be closed only with a key—with surprising, unobservable developments. And in “If a Book Is Locked There’s Probably a Good Reason for That Don’t You Think,” a key keeps a mystical diary locked (for good reason).

Oyeyemi’s tales span multiple times and landscapes as they tease boundaries between coexisting realities. Is a key a gate, a gift, or an invitation? What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours captivates as it explores the many possible answers.

My issue with short stories is often -What the heck?!  I want more!  Or often -What the heck – that was so short why was it a story?  

I definitely did not have that issue with this new collection by Helen Oyeyemi.  Some stories like “books and roses” or “drownings” I could have read much more of to get into the worlds she created.  I would love to know more about the wolf present in “dornicka and the st. martin’s day goose”.  But even though I would have read had I had more pages I was completely satisfied with what I read.  The stories were so rich and detailed and captivating.  Even while the puppets weren’t my favorite I still was swept up in the drama and the characters.  The magical realism in these stories definitely carried me away.

The writing was beautiful and mystical and I have so many questions about what I just read. Definitely a book I will be taking time to reread and savor.  The stories were both haunting and delightful.  I definitely will not be looking at my keys in the same way for a while.  

4 stars

Thank you Riverhead Books for this advance copy in exchange for an honest review.


  1. Yayy! When you said this one wasn’t like your normal experiences of short stories, I got worried that it was because you hadn’t liked it enough to want more — and as a person who has been riding hard for Helen Oyeyemi for a while now, I’d have been disappointed. But yay! You liked them! She’s so weird and great!

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