Akata Witch (Nnedi Okorafor)
World Fantasy Award-winning author Nnedi Okorafor weaves together a story of magic, mystery, and finding one's place in the world--for fans of Ursula Le Guin and Diana Wynne Jones.
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?
Nnedi Okorafor was born in the United States to two Igbo (Nigerian) immigrant parents. She holds a PhD in English and is a professor of creative writing at Chicago State University. She has been the winner of many awards for her short stories and young adult books, and won a World Fantasy Award for Who Fears Death. Nnedi's books are inspired by her Nigerian heritage and her many trips to Africa. She lives in Chicago with her daughter Anyaugo and family. She can be contacted via her website, www.nnedi.com.
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I have been hearing about Akata Witch from bloggers and Instagrammers for some time now, so I knew it was time for me to pick this gorgeous book up. It's been mostly touted to me as a Harry Potter-esque story set in Africa, and once you start reading, right away you see how amazing it is to delve into magic or "juju" in the African culture.
Aside from the buzz about magic, I didn't know anything else about Akata Witch, so when I started it, I couldn't tell if it was meant for middle grade or a young adult audience. (Sunny Nwazue, our protagonist, is 12, so it felt like it could go either way as I read.) In the end, I think it's a good transition book for younger readers who are ready to start moving up into older reads and can be read by anyone.
I have read only a few books based in Africa this year, (City of Saints and Thieves by Natalie C Anderson and Hum If You Don't Know The Words by Biana Marais) and I find myself drinking in the descriptions of life and culture, history and folklore. Akata Witch included Sunny's life as, not only an albino with features of a West African, but also many of the other worries and thoughts that are relevant to where she lives. It was a reminder that I don't know very much about African life and left me with the desire to find more reads set there. (if you have any recommendations, I would love for you to share them.)
There is so much beauty and richness to the folklore and juju of Africa. It's a familiar story line, easily compared to Harry Potter or other similar reads on many levels. A young girl who doesn't realize she has magical ability until one day, along with her two new friends, etc, etc, but the elements and details of this story make is something new and fun to read with some really stunning imagery. Okorafor writes each sentence simply. Its easy to read. But somehow the colors, images, and even descriptions of taste and texture are vivid and come to life. This is true talent to me, and one reason I'll be recommending this read to anyone of all ages.