Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor

"And that brings us to you, Sunny...Your name reflects the sun, like the color of your skin, no? ... An ugly, sickly color for a child of pure Nigerian blood. Everything about you is 'wrong'...What has the Supreme Being endowed you with, eh?" 

"So, because I'm a Leopard albino, I can - "

"Yes. Certain attributes tend to yield certain talents. Very, very tall people tend to have the ability to predict the future through the stars. Very, very short people tend to make plants grow. Those with bad skin usually know and understand the weather. Abilities are things people are able to do without the use of a juju knife, powders or other ingredients like the head of an ebett. They just come naturally." 

I have read 20 young adult novels this year - some for Teacher Land, some for myself, and some for Library School. Akata Witch is one of my absolute favorites of this year.

Sunny is between worlds. Nigerian, but American-born. Igbo speaker, but English is her first language. Black, but albino. Then she discovers she is even more inbetween than she ever realized: she is a Leopard Person, one with the ability to perform magic, in a Lamb (non-magical) family. Some people have called this the Nigerian Harry Potter, and while the description is apt, it also fails to give this novel and the world Okorafor created its fair due. Sunny's character is initiated into the Leopard world by Chichi (a powerful loudmouth who is homeschooled by her magical priestess mom) and Orlu (a quiet respectful boy who steps in when Sunny gets jumped). They are quickly joined by Sasha, the American bad boy sent to Nigeria to keep him out of trouble. 

As Sunny starts leading a complicated double life with academic school with uniforms and corporeal punishment during the day in sharp contrast with dangerous magical school at night, she and her friends must learn to work together while avoiding the ritualistic serial killer who has been taking children and mutilating their bodies. 

The world-building is incredible and the characters are engaging and relatable. Although I read a fair amount of Nigerian literature, this is my first young adult and/or fantasy novel that takes place in Nigeria, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I can't wait for the sequel, Kola Nut, to come out in 2016.

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