Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor
Review by Alfonso
Overall rating: 3.5
Our April 14th discussion was Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor. Sunny is a 12 year old African American albino girl living in Nigeria with her family. She soon discovers that she is more than a young girl sensitive to the sun and good at futbol. Sunny is a Leopard “free agent” (someone who comes from non-magical parents) who makes friends with Orlu (fellow student) and Chichi (friend of Orlu). Orlu and Chichi show Sunny the secret they keep from Lambs (non magical folk) after binding her from telling their secret to anyone. Soon, another boy named Sasha comes to stay with Orlu’s family after getting in trouble in America rounding out the quartet. There are a series of kidnappings and murders of young children that are being perpetrated by someone identified as Black Hat because of the sign that he leaves behind. Okorafor weaves African mythology throughout Akata Witch that many Westerners will not be familiar with. Ultimately, the four are placed through a series of tests that will help them confront the Black Hat and attempt to stop him from his evil deeds.
The rest of this review contains spoilers.
I usually enjoy taking a chance on my reading material and try not to pay too much attention to reader ratings. If I do, I like to look at the 3 star reviews to get a good sense of the book. Mostly, it comes down to the fact that I like discovering something on my own. I stumbled upon Akata Witch while I was speaking to a fellow manager at the bookstore that I work at. She was going through the YA section and found the book out of place. I have to admit that I judge books by their covers and I was drawn to the great illustration and colors of this particular cover. Reading a brief description of the book was all it took. We haven’t read much that has been told through a Non-Western point of view and I felt that this would make for an interesting conversation. While the story took place in Nigeria, some of the characters were American and the influence of Western culture is felt throughout the book.
Sunny is a young girl with untapped/unknown powers in the form of dormant magical abilities. As the book progresses, she finds out more about who she really is and what she is capable of. I don’t like using the phrase “coming of age novel”, but this is always the simplest way to describe the journey that Okorafor has put in placed for Sunny. Half of our group didn’t finish the book and are close to finishing it. Those of us who did finish the book gave it it about a 3.75 rating, I gave the book a 4 rating. I enjoyed the book and would continue on to the sequel. Some members of our group felt that it is difficult to find the right age group that this book would be perfect for. The characters are as young as 12 years of age and would probably not be suitable for middle graders because of the content. By the same token, some of us felt that the language and content would not interest the older teens (14-17). Roxy felt that the language was elementary and most felt that the Sunny was immature. The difficulty really lies in trying to market/recommend the book to young readers. According to some in our group, the book was not very memorable in that not much really happened and there was no real strong connection to any of the characters . Rebecca felt that the story was pleasing but the details did not stick. I enjoyed the characters little quirks. Sasha is definitely an angry young man that gets himself into trouble, especially when he is plotting with Chichi. Orlu is the more practical of the bunch and Sunny is the inexperienced one not having grown up with the knowledge of who she really is.
The story will be familiar to readers and centers around a young adult that discovers she has magical abilities and needs to use these new found abilities to defeat an evil magician. I have to admit, that reading the book, I kept comparing it (unfairly) to Harry Potter. Aly also felt that it wass unfair to compare it to Harry Potter. All of our meetings always end up with Harry Potter being brought up, so it is hard not to compare everything with Harry Potter. Sunny is born to Lamb parent(s) (muggle), her skin color makes her stand out from the rest of the Leopards (Harry’s scar), she has a couple of friends that bare some characteristics to Ron & Hermione. Sunny is great at futbol which revolves around a ball (quidditch). At Leopards Rock, Sunny is able to get books that she needs to study, her juju knife (wand) that chooses her, and has a variety of mentors (professors) that will guide them in their development. Ultimately, the quartet must stop an evil murder from bringing back most evil villain in the story.
There are definitely interesting aspects throughout the story that send a strong message to the reader. Okorafor’s characters are strong because they need to trust and rely on each other in order to defeat the villain. I appreciated the fact that the book did not solely rely on the Chosen One to solve all of the problems. Also, Sunny’s skin color leads to the strength in her abilities. In fact, as the story progresses, her albinism is no longer something that acts as a hindress. Because Sunny is different, she is picked on by her fellow classmates. Once Sunny develops her powers, she feels confident in standing up to her bullies. She later shows her strength during the futbol match and is rewarded even though they lose the match because they worked as a team.
There are many things that are left unresolved by the author which I hope will be explained in the next book(s). Sunny’s parents are not aware of their daughter’s magical abilities or the secret that Sunny’s grandmother held. In the end, Sunny finds out that her grandmother trained and was murdered by the Black Hat. Sunny’s mother never wanted to talk about the grandmother. In the end, Sunny finally gets an answer from her mother which leads the reader to believe that Sunny’s mother knows more than she is letting on and could possibly have some abilities of her own. The reason that they moved to Nigeria was because Sunny’s mother felt that something bad would happen to Sunny if they did not leave America. Sunny’s father reluctantly moves the family to Nigeria and it is clear that he does not understand or trusts his daughter and is afraid that she would turn out like the grandmother.
The book was enjoyable and it definitely left me with the urge of moving on to the next book in the series. I don’t usually have the desire to continue reading the following books in a series after reading some of the books that we have read. I am interested in seeing where Okorafor goes from here.
Visit Nnedi Okorafor‘s website