Today’s review is of Nnedi Okorafor’s Akata Witch.
SUMMARY (nicked from Goodreads)
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?
Honestly, that summary feels so hollow and lacking. It’s not nearly as full-bodied and interesting and nuanced as the story feels, but I’m terrible with summaries (read: CBA to lumber over a really fitting one). Think of it as a gist.
Fun fact: This was actually one of the first books I added to my TBR after making the conscious decision to diversify my reading. To quote my midway report to a friend:
“Most fantasy is saturated with European ideas about what fantasy magic worlds are like: elves, mountains, Germanic forests, castles, wizards, witches, etc.
This is a different type of fantasy that I think is refreshing and new, but still familiar to Caribbean and (I assume) African readers because of the cultural knowledge about folktales and regional magic practices like Obeah and Voodoo. I imagine others with knowledge about non-European cultural knowledge will probably be able to relate as well. And for those with only European fantasy knowledge, this would be a really interesting read. The magic here is also more visceral.”
If you read a lot of middle grade/YA fantasy you will probably be able to identify common threads of the genre. There are parallels to be made between this book and Harry Potter, but I wouldn’t say it felt same-y or copycat at all! Quite the contrary. In fact, if you enjoyed Harry Potter, you are likely to enjoy this book. And you will probably appreciate the fresh perspective of a tween’s story of magical awakening(??). That sounds like the worst, most euphemistic description even though it’s quite literal.
For me, this book was important because of what it represents and the potential it has as a work of YA African fantasy with black main characters whose skin colour is not simply social commentary in the book, a metaphor or tokenism or plot point or stand in for character development. It was completely incidental. (Except for Sunny who is albino, but even that doesn’t come up all the time, which I liked.) I hoped it would be good, but prepared for it to fall flat. As it turns out, it quite delighted and impressed me.
It’s a very fun story that is both different and familiar enough to hold your interest with engaging characters (major and minor) who really draw you in. (F.Y.I. Sunny’s dad needs to go to anger management or somethin’. He cray.) The world is rich with all sorts of wonders which might feel a little overwhelming at first, but this is analogous to Sunny’s experience of this new world that she is discovering for the first time as well.
My one complaint is that, ultimately, I found the major threat a little less satisfying than I’d have liked, but I think that’s because I seem to be difficult to please with this plot structure. (Previous books I’ve read with a similar structure have also been unable to quite pull it off for me but other people never seem to be as bothered/critical as I am?) However, it didn’t detract much from my overall experience. And, as this is apparently the first in a series, there is still a lot of room to build on the strong foundations of this fine novel.
Would I recommend it? Absolutely!
genre: fantasy, young adult, middle grade, fiction, paranormal, african
publisher: Viking Children’s Books
source & date read: Goodreads browsing(?); 13 September 2014
recommend for: fantasy lovers, those interested in diversifying their reading, Harry Potter lovers
pros: fresh fantasy perspective, interesting characters, cultural enlightenment
cons: slightly anti-climactic ending