Book Review: Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor

Sunny is caught between two worlds, never quite fitting in anywhere. She was born in Nigeria, grew up in New York, and now lives back in Nigeria. She has albino white skin and hair that make her stand out from her peers and sensitive to the sun. And now, she discovers, she is part of a magical race called Leopard People, but born into a non-magical family.

Genre: Middle grade fantasy
Who should read it: Kids, teens, or adults looking to expand their fantasy reading to countries beyond America and Britain
You may like it if you like: Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi, A Blade So Black by L.L. McKinney, Shadowshaper by Daniel José Older

Characters

Sunny – Twelve is not a fun age, especially for Sunny, who is bullied for her appearance and “Americanness.” The other kids call her “white” and “ghost” and “akata,” which is a derogatory word used in Nigeria to refer to Black Americans. But Sunny’s world is about to get much bigger than the middle school playground.

Orlu – Quiet and dependable, Orlu is the only kid at school who is nice to Sunny. He introduces her to Chichi, who introduces her to the world of Leopard People. Orlu is also a Leopard Person and his specialty is to undo other people’s juju.

Chichi – Eccentric and mysterious, Chichi is Orlu’s neighbor. She and her mother live in a small hut filled to the brim with books, which she reads voraciously in place of a traditional education. She is a powerful and precocious magic user.

Sasha – An African-American boy who got sent to stay with Orlu’s family in Nigeria after a trouble-making incident involving using juju at school.

The Plot

Akata witch coverEverything changes for Sunny once she is inducted into the world of the Leopard People, which is what those who possess magical abilities call themselves. Now, rather than worrying about bullies and having to wait until after sundown to play soccer to protect her fair skin, she is given the task of defeating a magical serial killer. At least she’s not alone. Orlu, Chichi, and Sasha join her to form an Oha coven, a well-balanced group of four youngsters who learn and fight together. But will they become strong enough to stop the dangerous man known as Black Hat Otokoto before he uses his ritual killings to unleash a powerful and destructive spirit creature?

My Thoughts

At times, this did not feel like a middle grade book. I kept forgetting that the characters were only in their tweens, as they dealt with burgeoning romance, had the fate of the world placed on their shoulders, and roamed around unsupervised. At other times,their childish interests and dialogue really showed. Regardless, I believe this is a novel that people of all ages, middle grade and up can enjoy. There is a little bit of gore and violence, as is to be expected in a story about a group of kids battling a serial killer, but not much worse than in Harry Potter.

The world-building is well done, introduced at just the right pace to build something comprehensive and complex without deluging you in details. My favorite aspect is that in the world of the Leopard People, the only way to earn currency is to learn new things. When that happens, the currency rains from the sky onto the character, its value proportional to the knowledge they gained. This was both humorous and a great insight into the way the Leopard People view the world and what they value.

As a linguistics nerd, I love that Akata Witch showcases the linguistic diversity of West Africa. In the core group of characters alone, Sunny and Orlu are bilingual in Igbo and English, Chichi speaks those as well as Efik, and Sasha speaks only English. They encounter other characters who speak French, Pidgin English, Xhosa, and more.

Have you read Akata Witch? What did you think? Let me know in the comments!


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