In Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor, 12 year-old Sunny is trying to find her fit in the world based on who she is as a person, but is challenged by how others see her. After being born in America, and living her first years there, Sunny is currently living in Nigeria with her parents and brothers, as her parents decided to return to their homeland. She is constantly bullied at school because she is an "akata," a derogatory term for an American of African descent, and an albino. If that was not enough, Sunny is now also haunted by what she saw while staring at the flame of a candle - the end of the world. Not wanting to add to her troubles, she keeps this to herself until befriended by Orlu and Chichi, and is drawn into a magical world she never knew existed, the Leopold People. It turns out that Sunny is a "free agent," a person born with magical powers despite no magical parents. Now she is one of the Leopold people and revels in this community of like-kind people, and amazing things begin to happen to her. All is going well until Sunny and her friends have been assigned to stop a serial killer, Black Hat, who has been murdering children.
I was intrigued by the mystery, the magical ambience, and the vivid setting in Akata Witch. The fantasy setting takes place in Nigeria providing a fresh feel to a coming-of-age story in the overcrowded fantasy genre. The charm is the author makes the reader comfortable and familiar with both the real and magical worlds outlined in the story. One technique used to make us feel familiar is at the beginning of each chapter, there is an excerpt from the "Fast Facts for Free Agents" book Sunny is using for her training, allowing the reader to learn about the Leopold People and their basic philosophy. I was fascinated to read about the African spiritual approach and tales. For fans of Okorafor's prior work, she once again uses her trademark spiritual wilderness concept as evidenced by the luscious descriptions of the magical environments. The familiar aspect is that while learning the mythology, current events, and culture of Nigeria, Okforafor uses the timeless themes for adolescents; issues with parents and friends, group identification, wondering if the cute boy likes you, and the Nigeria we see is not one of violence and poverty, but one where parents work, kids go to school, use cell phones and the Internet.
Sunny is a strong heroine, and it was wonderful to watch her grow into herself. The secondary characters are equally as strong, and provide the impetus to move along the story. The quirks of each of the characters are subtly drawn yet realistic enough and understandable to young adults.
The pacing at the beginning was a little slow, but picked up quickly and flowed well until the end which was a little too abrupt for me. This book is a good foundation for a series, and I am hoping we will have more adventures with Sunny and her friends as they progress through their training levels.
I recommend Akata Witch to young adult readers of fantasy who are looking for new imaginative territory.
Reviewed by Beverly
APOOO Literary Book Review