Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor

This is my review of Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor. It was wonderful and awesome-sauce.

The book
Akata Witch is about a young girl named Sunny who has grown up in New York, but her family has recently moved to Nigeria, which is where her parents are from. So Sunny is Nigerian, and an albino, and when she returns to Nigeria she discovers she is one of the Leopard People. They have juju (magic) and they live among the Lambs (non-magical people), but they go to Leopard Knocks (the magical world) to learn. So Sunny learns she’s one of the Leopard people by her classmate Orlu, who lives down the street, and a girl in the neighbourhood. And they take her to their teacher, Anatov, so she can learn. In the meantime there’s this psychotic killer called Black Hat kidnapping, maiming and killing children, in the area.

Thoughts
It felt like it owed a lot to Harry Potter, which is nothing bad at all. I think a lot of young adult books about magical children written after 2000 will owe a lot to Harry Potter. It’s still very different from Harry Potter. I will admit that I don’t know very much about Nigeria, I have a sort of base knowledge, and now I want to know more, but it felt very grounded in its own reality. Okorafor is American, but born of Igbo Nigerian parents, and has spent a lot of her time in Nigeria, so she knows the country, and I felt like she was very good at capturing the country and mood. Which sounds really weird, since I have only the basest knowledge, but it didn’t feel fake, it didn’t feel like a caricature, it felt like a real place. And the magic, or juju, felt like it was naturally woven into the world. Since Okorafor and Sunny are both Nigerian-American it’s probably easier to make her feel real.

I really liked Sunny. She was very secure, which I found interesting, but like Harry she has grown up with a family that wasn’t great. Sunny’s family is a lot better, but her father seems to resent her, and her mother is very overbearing. They have both gotten through that, and not let it get them down, they’re strong and tough and assured. And even though she’s quite secure she grows throughout the book and becomes stronger and tougher. She is bullied in school for being albino, and she learns to deal with that, which is cool.

It was very grounded in female power as well. Sunny and Orlu are joined in their studies by Sunny’s neighbour Chichi, and a young American boy staying with Orlu, Sasha. And Chichi lives with her mother, and gets her magical power from her and it seems very much like it connects them. Sunny and Chichi bond quite a bit and have a strong friendship, and Chichi helps Sunny really embrace her juju. Sunny grows up in a family where no one else is magical, but her grandmother is also a Leopard people, and she got her power from her grandmother, through her mother, and they seem to have the same power, which I liked.

I really enjoyed how it was written. It was very conversational and cool. And I liked Sunny. She’s not afraid to stand up for herself. She loves playing soccer and when boys tell her she can’t she will not step down, she will prove herself. To his credit, Sasha is a complete pal, and he stands up for her, and tells the other boys to stuff it and give her a shot. And it is not done out of pity, Sasha knows she’s good and he wants her to have her chance. He’s a fairly badass young man in that sense.

I gave it three stars, because I feel like it… I feel like I was too old to read it. Some middle grade books appeal completely to both adults and children, but I feel like this probably appeals to children, but it wasn’t mind blowing to me.

Finally

It was funny, it was clever. It was also original, and it was really cool. And I loved Sunny so much.