25 May 2012

Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor

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?
I really loved this twist on the Harry Potter-ish trope of magic users hidden among us. A bonus addition is the setting of the book: Nigeria. It was fun to learn about daily life and the culture of Nigeria, and then be plunged into a parallel world with all the culture plus a liberal dash of folklore and religion. Sunni’s place as an outsider, both as a girl, an American transplant, and as an albino, which serve to make her outcast even among her own family. The new world of magic is the first place she fits in, and watching her shine for the first time is really what makes this book.

One thing that I was really surprised about is how passive Sunny is as a character. She makes few actual decisions and actions in the book. Mostly people and things act on or against her, pushing her along the plot. Usually this would make for a pretty boring read, but Okorafor really makes it shine by focusing on Sunny and her emotions, especially how out-of-control she feels (probably because she is). I think it’s very relatable, many teens (and adults) feel that they are being pushed along a path with no real ability to make decisions of their own.

I really loved this book. I loved how the dialog had a distinct character and felt “foreign” (I hope authentic to Nigeria, but I really have no reference to judge), it really helped to remind me the whole time I was reading that I was in another culture. I also loved Sunny, how strong she was even as she was being pushed along. The one thing I didn’t like was the big bad. He was so shrouded in mystery and kept secret that I really didn’t know much about him up until the climax, which didn’t feel as climactic as it should have. Watching Sunny finally be active and use her power, though, was more than worth slogging through it.

1 comment:

  1. I might just have to pick this up. It's also one of the few books out this year that doesn't have a white protagonist (though I guess in Sunni's case, that's debatable). Interesting that you don't give ratings on your site, I haven't seen that format before.

    Thanks for the helpful review!