Book Review : Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor
Sunny was born in the United States, but she has moved back to Nigeria with her family. All her life she has had to face being different from everyone because she is an albino, someone unkindly said that Sunny looked like the color of sour milk. One day as Sunny gazed into the flame of a candle she had a vision of the destruction of the end of the world. At school Sunny is bullied and an outcast, but a boy named Orlu befriends her and introduces her to Chichi who doesn’t attend school. Within their friendship they discover that Sunny is endowed with magical abilities, that she is part of the Leopard People. The three friends are introduced to Sasha, a Black American and the four become united in a purpose greater than themselves. They have to stop the dark forces that are pushing to come out and destroy the world.
Adult Point of View
I picked up Akata Witch because I wanted to read a book that promised to be unique and different. I felt that the beginning of the book was very strong, it felt dark, dangerous and threatening. I felt just like Sunny that I didn’t know what was going on and I wanted someone to explain what was really going on. I didn’t even know if juju was something the author created. (Juju is actually part of the traditions of West Africa, a belief in magic with properties similar to karma.) Sometimes I would have to read a sentence twice because it seemed like the voice would change and I had to evaluate which person was the subject in the sentence.
About midway through the novel I realized there was a Harry Potter connection, and I must admit I felt cheated because I have read Harry Potter, and thoroughly enjoyed it, but I wanted Okorafor’s novel to be completely new.
Broad similarities include, an ostracized child with secret magical gifts (Sunny vs Harry), a secret magical world (Leopard People vs witches/wizards), the ignorant world (Lambs vs Muggles), friends that have to unite against the enemy (Sunny, Sasha, Chichi & Orlu vs Harry, Ron & Hermione) and someone thirsty for power (Black Hat vs Voldemort).
Specifics include the juju knife choosing the Leopard person as the wand chose the wizard, the Funky Bus and the Night Bus, at a large sporting event the announcer amplifies their voice with juju knife/wand and the protagonist is naturally good at athletics.
There could easily have been more similarities, but those are the ones that stood out to me the most sharply.
I felt the conclusion was too succinct and anti-climatic. All Sunny had to do to remove the threat of the rising Ekwensu, who had been called by Black Hat, was go into a spirit type phase and say “return” with a bit of fancy knife work.
There were many things that I really liked about Akata Witch the most prominent being authenticity. I liked hearing about the prejudices that each person carried because it made them feel authentic, for example how Sasha was disliked because he was a black American and not born in Africa. ‘Akata’ was a derogatory term used to describe someone not born in Africa. I loved how Nigeria (Igbo) was described without being glamorized, again it felt authentic. I now feel like I have traveled in Africa for a little bit. I also enjoyed reading how the juju worked with the drawings and the levels of knowledge that the Leopard People had worked to obtain. The juju magic felt more threatening than magical elements in most fantasy novels because of the historical basis of belief. It was fascinating how each Leopard Person’s spirit self was manifested as an African mask that they carried within them. The mask was a reflection of that person’s power. Okorafor had ideas that were unique and fascinating to explore.
As way of a warning, there is violence and some strong language. Black Hat is a serial killer and also maims children to steal their power for his dark juju. As with most young adult novels justice prevails. I would recommend for over 14 years old.
3.25 out of 5 stars
– the Mother
Teen Point of View
I thought that the African twist on this book was very fun and enjoyable. It was a pretty unique idea but the end was very anti-climatic. I thought it should have been harder to defeat the big bad masquerade person, but it didn’t seem that way at all. I also thought that Sunny should have done something to help defeat Black Hat.
2.75 out of 5 stars
– the Daughter