I have been reading a lot of fantasy lately, and Akata Witch, targeted for ages 12 and above, caught my eye. Set in contemporary Nigeria, both the actual country and the magical world, come vividly to life. But even more engaging than the setting are the characters. I found the four lead children interesting, but Sunny most of all. Sunny is bright, and when necessary, incredibly brave.
Twelve-year-old Sunny was born in the U.S. but moved to Nigeria with her family three years ago. Sunny is bullied by her classmates, who call her an Akata, a pejorative term for those born outside Nigeria. She’s also bullied for being an albino. Sunny’s parents are remote and punitive, and her older brothers ignore her. In addition to being isolated, Sunny’s troubled by a vision of the end of the world.
When Sunny becomes friends with her classmate Orlu and two of his friends, she discovers a magical world she never knew existed and learns she’s a magical Leopard person. As the four children are trained in magic, it’s apparent something dark is coming. Always in the background is the mysterious character Black Hat Otokoto, who is killing children throughout Nigeria.
Ms. Okorafor’s world-building feels fresh. The magical world is intermixed with actual Nigerian life. Lambs (non-magical people) and Leopards differ sharply in their values. Lambs think material things are primary, while Leopards value learning. Leopards earn magical currency — or chittim — by learning. The harder the skill or lesson learned, the more chittim they receive.
While reading I often went online to look up foods and places Sunny encounters. I craved plantains and mangos right along with Sunny. While the ending is satisfying, I wanted more of this world. Shortly after I finished Akata Witch I purchased the sequel, Akata Warrior; it did not disappoint.
Linda is a research manager in the Center for Political Studies at the University of Michigan and in her spare time is on the Board of the Ann Arbor Book Society and loves attending local book groups and author events
Featured in May 2019 newsletter