by Nnedi Okorafor
Series: Akata Witch #1
Published on July 11, 2017 by Speak
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult
Sunny Nwazue lives in Nigeria, but she was born in New York City. Her features are West 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 in. And then she discovers something amazing—she is a "free agent" with latent magical power. And she has a lot of catching up to do.
Soon she's part of a quartet of magic students, studying the visible and invisible, learning to change reality. But just as she's finding her footing, Sunny and her friends are asked by the magical authorities to help track down a career criminal who knows magic, too. Will their training be enough to help them against a threat whose powers greatly outnumber theirs?
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I’ll be honest, I’d never heard of Akata Witch until it arrived on my doorstep. And when I skimmed some of the reviews, I saw that it was compared time and again to Harry Potter which immediately sparked my interest.
They weren’t wrong. There are definitely similarities but this book is so much more than that.
The story begins with Sunny, a twelve-year-old born from the United States who has returned to her parents’ native Nigeria. Between her upbringing for nine of her twelve years, as well as being albino, she doesn’t always fit in.
First off, the setting is perfect. Okorafor weaves an intricate magical world within a cultural that I’m not familiar with but became completely engrossed in. I was really intrigued by the Leopard people, those with magical abilities in this world. Each detail in this book has a purpose, a meaning, whether you realize it right away or not. I also thought the entries from Sunny’s book scattered throughout between chapters provided an interesting examination of the Leopard people from the eyes of that book’s author, someone who’s a member of Leopard society.
I’ll be honest. I forgot that the characters were younger after I started reading. Though Sunny is twelve, this book read more like a young adult novel than middle grade which is where I would have expected it to fall based on the character’s age.
Where her age showed was in how little she really knew about the world she found herself in (and with good reason). It’s hard not to see the parallels to Harry Potter here. Sunny (Harry) learns she’s a Leopard girl (wizard) who will be able to use juju (cast magic) and use a juju knife (wand). She and her friends (Harry, Ron, and Hermione) have to defeat the big bad and save the magical world and the Lambs (Muggles) that might be affected.
There were other scenes in the story that made me immediately think of scenes from Harry Potter but the overall story is a familiar one. And that wasn’t a bad thing. I wasn’t really sure how I felt about a book being described as this similar but found that Okorafor put such a unique spin on the same general idea that easily stands on its own as a fabulous book.
I wanted to see Sunny succeed. While she’s new to the Leopard world, her friends have been a part of it for many years. Chichi’s spunk and sass kept scenes interesting while I thought of Orlu as the glue holding them all together. Then there’s Sasha who was a bit more of a wild card but they all came together.
It was great to see how the author also spun characteristics that might seem like flaws into something unique and good. Sunny is albino and it’s caused her to be ridiculed by her peers, but it’s also what makes her special, what gives her abilities that very few Leopard people have naturally.
Now there were a few things I wasn’t a big fan of. The ending was a bit lackluster for me, rushed compared to the rest of the book and a tad predictable based on the story arc. For the rest of the book, the chapters were drawn out and moved a bit slow. Though I liked the characters, I didn’t find them to be overly interesting compared to the world itself. And as I mentioned, the plot was easy enough to guess in terms of the big points. It’s a familiar story so that’s to be expected.
Overall, I did really enjoy Akata Witch and will be diving into Akata Warrior soon!