Adulthood Rites
Goodreads ratings
4.16 / 5

"Adulthood Rites" Summary

By Octavia E. Butler

science fiction | 277 pages | Published in 1988

In this sequel to Dawn, Lilith Iyapo has given birth to what looks like a normal human boy named Akin. But Akin actually has five parents: a male and female human, a male and female Oankali, and a sexless Ooloi. The Oankali and Ooloi are part of an alien race that rescued humanity from a devastating nuclear war, but the price they exact is a high one the aliens are compelled to genetically merge their species with other races, drastically altering both in the process. On a rehabilitated Earth, this "new" race is emerging through human/Oankali/Ooloi mating, but there are also "pure" humans who choose to resist the aliens and the salvation they offer.These resisters are sterilized by the Ooloi so that they cannot reproduce the genetic defect that drives humanity to destroy itself, but otherwise they are left alone (unless they become violent). When the resisters kidnap young Akin, the Oankali choose to leave the child with his captors, for he the most "human" of the Oankali children will decide whether the resisters should be given back their fertility and freedom, even though they will only destroy themselves again. This is the second volume in Octavia Butler's Xenogenesis series, a powerful tale of alien existence.


Estimated read time: 7 min read

One Sentence Summary

A human-Oankali hybrid questions her identity and struggles to find acceptance in a world divided by fear and prejudice.


"Adulthood Rites" is a thought-provoking science fiction novel written by Octavia E. Butler. It is the second book in the Xenogenesis series, also known as the Lilith's Brood trilogy. Butler, known for her insightful exploration of complex social issues, continues to captivate readers with her unique blend of speculative fiction and sociopolitical commentary.

Brief Synopsis

"Adulthood Rites" is set in a post-apocalyptic world where humanity is on the brink of extinction. After a devastating nuclear war, an alien species known as the Oankali arrives to save humanity from extinction. However, their help comes at a price. The Oankali are genetic manipulators, and they offer to merge their DNA with humans to create a new hybrid species.

The story follows Akin, a human-Oankali construct, as he navigates the complexities of his identity and existence. Born to a human father and Oankali mother, Akin is a bridge between two species. As he grows, he longs to understand both his human and Oankali heritage, and to find a place where he truly belongs.

Main Characters

AkinThe protagonist, a human-Oankali construct who is part of both species. He possesses the ability to feel the emotions and experiences of others. Akin struggles with his identity and searches for a sense of belonging.
LilithThe human protagonist from the first book in the series, "Dawn." Lilith is a survivor of the nuclear war and a key figure in the relationship between humans and the Oankali. She serves as a guide and mentor to Akin throughout his journey.
JodahsA unique Oankali construct who is part male, part female, and part human. Jodahs is an outcast among the Oankali due to their unusual genetic makeup. Jodahs becomes an important ally and confidant to Akin as they navigate the complexities of their existence.
KahguyahtAn Oankali leader who plays a significant role in the interactions between humans and the Oankali. Kahguyaht is a symbol of authority and power within the Oankali community, and their decisions have far-reaching consequences.

Chapter Summaries

Chapter 1: Awakening

Akin awakens on an Oankali ship, surrounded by unfamiliar beings. He learns about his unique heritage as a human-Oankali construct and the purpose of his existence. Lilith serves as his guide, helping him understand the new world he finds himself in.

Chapter 2: The Human Contradiction

Akin struggles with the conflicting emotions and identities within him. He grapples with the concept of being both human and Oankali, and the challenges this presents in finding acceptance among his peers.

Chapter 3: The Human Resistor

Akin encounters a group of humans who vehemently resist the Oankali's genetic manipulation. He witnesses their fear and hatred towards the Oankali, leading him to question his own loyalties and the ethics of the Oankali's actions.

Chapter 4: The Human Collaborator

Akin forms a connection with a human collaborator named Tate. Through their interactions, Akin gains insight into the complexities of human-Oankali relationships and the potential for mutual understanding and cooperation.

Chapter 5: The Human-Hybrid

Akin meets Jodahs, a unique Oankali construct who is part male, part female, and part human. Jodahs becomes a confidant and ally to Akin, as they both navigate the challenges of their existence and search for a sense of belonging.

Chapter 6: The Oankali Conflict

Akin witnesses a conflict within the Oankali community regarding the treatment of humans and the future of the human-Oankali hybrid species. This conflict raises questions about power dynamics, consent, and the ethical implications of genetic manipulation.

Chapter 7: The Human Journey

Akin embarks on a journey to Earth, hoping to understand humans and their resistance to the Oankali. Along the way, he encounters various human communities and witnesses the struggles they face in a world devastated by war and the Oankali's intervention.

Main Events

Throughout "Adulthood Rites," several key events shape the narrative and provide insights into the themes explored by Octavia E. Butler. These events include:

  1. Akin's awakening as a human-Oankali construct and his introduction to the Oankali society.
  2. Akin's encounters with humans who resist the Oankali's genetic manipulation and his internal struggle to reconcile his dual heritage.
  3. Akin's alliance with Jodahs, a unique Oankali construct, as they navigate the complexities of their existence and search for a sense of belonging.
  4. The conflict within the Oankali community regarding the treatment of humans and the future of the human-Oankali hybrid species.
  5. Akin's journey to Earth, where he witnesses the struggles of human communities and gains a deeper understanding of their resistance to the Oankali.

Themes and Insights

"Adulthood Rites" delves into several thought-provoking themes and offers valuable insights into human nature, identity, and the consequences of our choices. Some of the key themes explored in the novel include:

  1. Identity and Belonging: Akin's journey serves as a metaphor for the search for identity and a sense of belonging. The novel raises questions about the impact of heritage and the complexities of navigating multiple identities in a world divided by differences.
  2. Power and Control: The Oankali's genetic manipulation raises ethical questions about power dynamics and consent. The novel explores the consequences of wielding power over others and the moral implications of playing with the very essence of life.
  3. Resistance and Fear: The resistance of some humans towards the Oankali reflects the fear of the unknown and the struggle to accept radical change. The novel examines the consequences of fear-driven actions and the potential for understanding and cooperation despite differences.
  4. Survival and Adaptation: The post-apocalyptic setting of the novel highlights the instinct for survival and the capacity for adaptation in the face of extreme adversity. It raises questions about the lengths humans are willing to go to ensure their survival and the sacrifices that may be required.

Reader's Takeaway

"Adulthood Rites" is a compelling exploration of identity, power, and the complexities of human nature. Octavia E. Butler's masterful storytelling and thought-provoking themes make this science fiction novel a captivating read that resonates long after the final page.

The novel challenges readers to reflect on their own sense of identity, the choices they make, and the impact of those choices on others. It encourages empathy and understanding, reminding us of the importance of embracing diversity and finding common ground in a world marked by differences.


"Adulthood Rites" is a remarkable addition to the Xenogenesis series by Octavia E. Butler. With its engaging plot, complex characters, and exploration of thought-provoking themes, the novel captivates readers from beginning to end. Through the eyes of Akin, the human-Oankali construct, readers are invited to contemplate the intricacies of identity, power dynamics, and the consequences of our choices. Octavia E. Butler's visionary storytelling continues to leave a lasting impact on the science fiction genre, making "Adulthood Rites" a must-read for fans of speculative fiction and social commentary.

Adulthood Rites FAQ

  1. Who is the author of 'Adulthood Rites'?

    The author of 'Adulthood Rites' is Octavia E. Butler.

  2. What is the genre of 'Adulthood Rites'?

    'Adulthood Rites' is a science fiction novel.

  3. Is 'Adulthood Rites' part of a series?

    Yes, 'Adulthood Rites' is the second book in the Xenogenesis trilogy.

  4. Can 'Adulthood Rites' be read as a standalone book?

    It is recommended to read the first book, 'Dawn', before reading 'Adulthood Rites' to fully understand the story.

  5. What is the plot of 'Adulthood Rites'?

    'Adulthood Rites' continues the story of Lilith Iyapo, a human survivor of a cataclysmic war who is now living with an alien race known as the Oankali. In this book, Lilith's son, Akin, must navigate the complexities of his mixed heritage and face the challenges of being a bridge between humans and Oankali.

  6. Are there any notable themes in 'Adulthood Rites'?

    Some notable themes in 'Adulthood Rites' include genetic hybridity, identity, and societal evolution.

  7. What are the critical reviews of 'Adulthood Rites'?

    Critical reviews of 'Adulthood Rites' have been generally positive, with praise for Octavia E. Butler's thought-provoking storytelling and exploration of complex themes.

  8. Where can I purchase 'Adulthood Rites'?

    'Adulthood Rites' can be purchased online from various retailers such as Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and independent bookstores.

  9. Is 'Adulthood Rites' available as an e-book?

    Yes, 'Adulthood Rites' is available in e-book format for Kindle, Nook, and other e-readers.

  10. Has 'Adulthood Rites' won any awards?

    Yes, 'Adulthood Rites' was a finalist for the Hugo Award for Best Novel in 1989.