Akata Witch

January 12, 2017
Akata Witch Book Cover Akata Witch
Akata Witch, #1
Nnedi Okorafor
Fantasy
Viking Children's
April 14th, 2011
eBook
369
Library

Twelve-year-old Sunny lives in Nigeria, but she was born American. Her features are African, but she's albino. She's a terrific athlete, but can't go out into the sun to play soccer. There seems to be no place where she fits. And then she discovers something amazing-she is a "free agent," with latent magical power. Soon she's part of a quartet of magic students, studying the visible and invisible, learning to change reality. But will it be enough to help them when they are asked to catch a career criminal who knows magic too?

(via Goodreads)

 

A fantasy novel about an albino girl in Nigeria who, on the cusp of adolescence, discovers she is a witch and works to save the world with her newly found best friends. On the surface, Akata Witch sounds like it will be ripe with predictability and poorly represented characters filling tropes. But it is so much more than that.

Prejudice begets prejudice, you see. Knowledge does not always evolve into wisdom.

Original cover and title

Sunny is twelve-years-old and can’t seem to fit in anywhere. To begin with, her body is gangly and she is smart in a way which annoys her peers. Not to mention as an American-born Nigerian back in Nigeria she’s classified as an akata, a term used as a pejorative for African Americans, by her classmates. And, to top it all off, Sunny is an albino. She looks different, acts different, and all around feels out of place. One day, when a classmate Orlu steps in to save Sunny from bullying her world changed forever. She just doesn’t know it yet.

Let’s get this out of the way: Akata Witch is brilliant because we have a novel so ripe to be filled with preaching, misrepresentation, and troupes. And yet almost none of that appears. This book was written appropriately. Sunny’s albinoism is important only in that it makes her special amongst the Leopard people, or juju (magic) -wielders. Dr. Okafor doesn’t preach about what it means to be a Nigerian woman, albino, or an American in Nigeria in a world where these things are often looked down upon. Instead, these are aspects of Sunny’s life and only brought up when it mattered.

We embrace those things that make us unique or odd. For only in these things can we locate and then develop our most individual selves.

I really enjoyed the world building in Akata Witch. Dr. Okafor knows her Nigerian culture and folklore inside and out. I have relatively little experience with Nigerian culture aside from what I have gleaned from reading Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s works. But Dr. Okafor’s characters and their experiences parallel those so closely, I feel like I am starting to better understand the culture. While I don’t agree with the male supremacy over women and the idea of caning poorly behaved children, it’s obvious this is part of the Nigerian culture.

Also, the world building involving juju and the Leopard People feels natural. As Sunny and her peers are learning about juju from the Scholars so it the reader. It doesn’t feel preachy. As much of the learning is done through explanation as much as experience. Plus, the culture of the Leopard People is such that they are rewarded for learning. Every time they learn something new they are rewarded.

There are more valuable things in life than safety and comfort. Learn. You owe it to yourself.Β 

The characters are a ton of fun. Our quartet of students all bring their own unique qualities. Chichi is blunt and aggressive, steeped in Leopard People culture and Nigerian traditions. Sasha is rebellious and unabashed, as only someone who grew up in America should be. Orlu is the quiet, soft-spoken peacemaker and well-respected leader.

What made this book exceptionally appealing to me was how Sunny’s role was executed. She is the missing piece, but she isn’t “The Chosen One”. Sunny is struggling to learn about this new world she has been introduced to throughout the entire book. She is always a little behind. She isn’t quite where her friends are. And this makes sense! She was brought into this life much later than everyone else. There is a bit of deus ex machina towards the end which left me unsatisfied, but the whole ending felt rushed, so I won’t contribute that to Sunny’s role.

All in all, this was an incredibly enjoyable book. I could have had another 150-200 pages of Sunny’s learning and worldbuilding and still been happy. I recently learned that this originally stand-alone novel will become a duology in late 2017, and that’s pretty exciting to me. There is so much left unexplored in this world. I can’t wait to explore it more and see what else Dr. Okafor has in store for us.


What do you think?

  • Have you read anything by Dr. Nnedi Okorafor? If so, what books and what did you think?
  • The original title What Sunny Saw in the Flames, is based on the opening chapter where Sunny learns she has magical powers by having a premonition. What do you think about this title change?
  • This book is said to parallel Harry Potter but in a Nigerian setting. Do you agree?
  • Have you read other books featuring albino characters? What books? Did you enjoy them?

21 Comments

  • Books, Vertigo and Tea January 12, 2017 at 12:12 pm

    This sounds like a very rewarding read. The characters and world building seem to have been executed perfectly with this one! I really appreciate how you point all that the novel could have been and isn’t. Tackling the expected right off of the get go is brilliant!

    • Jackie B January 16, 2017 at 9:25 am

      Rewarding is a great way to describe this book– Plus, it introduced me to Nnedi, and I will definitely be reading more of her works. πŸ™‚

  • YAandWine January 12, 2017 at 2:52 pm

    This book sounds extremely cool! Great review!

    • Jackie B January 13, 2017 at 1:19 pm

      Thanks, Krysti! I really enjoyed it. I hope that others will see this review and want read it, as well.

  • theorangutanlibrarian January 12, 2017 at 7:43 pm

    Wow I actually really love the sound of the premise- and your review makes it sound like a really good read!

    • Jackie B January 13, 2017 at 10:25 am

      D’aw, thanks! It is definitely an intriguing book. I hope if you read it you also enjoy this.

  • morethangeekylove January 13, 2017 at 6:18 am

    What a great review! It sounds like a book that I would totally enjoy and I thank you so much for sharing it! The way you represented it is awesome πŸ™‚

    • Jackie B January 13, 2017 at 1:20 pm

      D’aw, thanks! It’s a unique book in my collection, and I’m glad I took the time to read it and highlight it here. Expect to see reviews of other works by Nnedi coming up in the future. I have found that I really enjoy her writing style. πŸ™‚

  • Diana January 17, 2017 at 8:32 am

    I have this book on my shelf and can’t wait to read it. It sounds really interesting. I am curious though, were the pics in the book?

    • Jackie B January 17, 2017 at 10:00 am

      I look forward to hearing what you think of it! In particular, I am curious to see what you think of the representation of the characters. They are so different, but they balance each other so well.
      My version didn’t have any images in it. It was a Kindle version, and I can’t find any information about an illustrated version… but there might be some chapter heading images in the printed book. Sometimes, those are omitted from digital copies [I’m looking at you, Harry Potter].

  • Grab the Lapels January 23, 2017 at 10:25 am

    Since this is a published by a children’s author, I wondered if the book was meant for kids. Reading your review made me realize that if I had kids, this would be the kind of book I would want them to read. It does a lot and isn’t about the “most popular boy in school” and the “nerdy girl” who can’t get his attention until something wacky happens and then they cross “worlds” and fall in love. Ew. Do you know the author? I was wondering why you were calling her Nnedi.

    • Jackie B January 23, 2017 at 12:39 pm

      No, I don’t know the author. However, I had an interesting conversation in a book club about how we refer to people by their last name. If we want to be respectful, we add a title in front of it, “Mr.” “Mrs.”, heck, even “Mr. President” is an honorific. But, with women, so many people drop the honorific because they don’t want to offend anyone. Is she married? Is she not? Does she want to be referred to with a title? We went back and forth for a while, and I’m on the side of the fence that there is nothing wrong with respectful use of the first name in the context such as a book review. Why? Because there is no possible way to confuse the audience (unless a character has the same name as the author, I guess?), and it shows the relationship the reader feels with the author.

      Nnedi Okorafor made a strong connection with me in this book, and she feels more like a friend than a person who is to be revered on a pedestal. I want to honor that connection, instead of ignoring it.

      What do you think? Appropriate? Inappropriate? Concerning?

      • Grab the Lapels January 24, 2017 at 11:18 am

        Hi, Jackie. It makes sense to me that the title for women can be problematic. I do know from Twitter that Okafor prefers to be called Dr. Okafor, but if a reader isn’t on Twitter, why would they know that. I did have an author write an email to me stating that she would not share my review because I’d referred to her by first name instead of last. She pointed out the long history of men getting called by their last names and women by their first, which she felt was a sign of respect for me, but not women. I was confused by her email–I had used her first name because we have been friendly for years, and I wanted my readers to know I may be a bit biased because I HAD developed a friendly relationship with the author of the book I was reviewing. However, she was very firm (actually, I don’t think we’re friends anymore as a result of our conversation), but it did leave an impression on me. Thus, I always call authors by their last names and nothing else. However, there is then the problem of what is a middle vs. last name, especially with Latinx authors. I fear I may be always messing up!

        • Jackie B January 25, 2017 at 10:35 pm

          That’s a great point about how we refer to men more often than women in that manner. I never realized that. I wonder where that comes from, and why we put stock in it? But, that’s just rhetorical, honestly. I also fear I might be messing up in referring to people, hence the reason I took that conversation to heart. I mostly thought about it from my perspective and what *I* would want, but I’m not the majority, that’s for sure.

          Thanks for sharing that the authors prefers to be called Dr. Okafor. I’ve updated my post accordingly. I definitely don’t want to offend anyone accidentally — particularly since I really respect her work. I probably won’t do the research for all authors, but perhaps I’ll stick with last names going forward, then? I don’t want to risk offending any authors!

          • Grab the Lapels January 26, 2017 at 6:01 am

            It’s definitely a challenge. Your intentions are good, Jackie. That counts for a lot! And I love that you’ve had conversions with different groups about it.

  • cw @ readthinkponder January 26, 2017 at 4:07 am

    Wow, this book sounds delightful. I have every intention to read it so I skimmed your review, but AHHH hearing your high praise makes me want to read it even more.
    I’m currently reading BINDI by Okorafor at the moment and am LOVING it. I can’t wait to finish Bindi and hopefully read Akata Witch too!

    • Jackie B January 26, 2017 at 10:37 am

      I just finished Bindi, too! It was a ton of fun, and I can’t wait to write my review. I really enjoyed the book. I think Dr. Okorafor is one of my new favorite authors. πŸ™‚ I look forward to reading your Binti review!

  • Dani @ Perspective of a Writer August 21, 2017 at 10:37 pm

    Oh if only this wasn’t from back in the day when I did not write very comprehensive reviews!! Still I agreed with so many of your points! I did like that we were preached at and felt the culture was such a natural part of the story. It was really creative which I love! There was some info dumping but for a middle grade so well done <3 Such a great review Jackie!!

    • Jackie B August 23, 2017 at 9:29 am

      Hahaha– I completely understand that. I’m on a question to read all the Newbery Award winners before the 100th Anniversary (2022!) and there are SO MANY I’ve read but that was long before Goodreads, let alone blogging and posting comprehensive reviews. I wonder if past Jackie and Dani would have different opinions of these books now? πŸ˜‰

      • Dani @ Perspective of a Writer August 23, 2017 at 11:57 pm

        True… so much of what we like is determined by our whole experience… I’m sure when I used to read I didn’t used to think so much about the fundamentals of storytelling, lol…

        • Jackie B August 25, 2017 at 11:49 am

          I completely agree! Honestly, I don’t think about them often enough now either… #Slacker

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