Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor

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Lynn: I love fantasy but it’s a crowded genre and sadly far too many of them blend into an indistinguishable blur for me.  So it’s a true delight to meet a book as fresh and inventive as Akata Witch (Penguin/Viking 2011).  Sunny was born in New York to Nigerian parents and the family returned to Nigeria three years before.  A rare albino with yellow hair, Sunny feels as different on the inside as she does the outside.  Sunny is good in school but bullied by her classmates with few friends until she is befriended by a classmate, Orlu, and his feisty home-schooled neighbor, Chichi.  Her new friends recognize Sunny’s latent magical abilities and draw her into the hidden world of the Leopard People.  Sunny is a rare Free Agent, half Leopard and half Lamb (ordinary human) and with the help of her friends, begins magical training along with another American, impulsive Sasha.  Soon the four learn that they have been chosen to track down a serial killer terrifying the city.  The killer is master of dark juju and linked in some way to Sunny’s persistent dreams of the world’s destruction.  Only by working together can the four hope to survive and save the world.

Okorafor creates a mesmerizing magical world complete with a complex structure, institutions, rules, cultural values and intriguing creatures like ghost hoppers and leaf people.  Yet the “real” world shines too and the descriptions of Nigerian cabs, food markets, music, pepper soup and a school that is clearly not American adds to the fascination.  Sunny and her friends are drawn as skillfully and the four young teens are fully realized, each strongly unique in their traits and foibles.  The very authentically portrayed relationship between them is one of the book’s many strengths and the teens squabble and preen, bicker, antagonize, support and defend each other.  Adult characters play a strong role in the story and I especially appreciate how Sunny has to balance her two worlds.  She may have magical abilities but she also has a curfew, regular homework and suspicious worried parents to assuage! The central crisis was resolved very quickly but it is a satisfying conclusion and reveals that much more trouble lies ahead.

Lively and original, skillfully drawn with some of the best world building going, Akata Witch is terrific.  If you only read a handful of fantasies this year, make sure this one is at the top of your list.

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About the Author:

Cindy Dobrez and Lynn Rutan are Booklist reviewers and middle-school librarians who have chaired both ALA’s Best Books for Young Adults and the Michael L. Printz Award for YA Literature committees. Follow Bookends on Twitter at @BookendsBlog. You can also find Cindy at @cdobrez and Lynn at @482april.

1 Comment on "Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor"

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  1. Oh wow. I started out half-reading this review out of nothing-better-to-do, and about halfway through … somewhere about “tracking down a serial killer who is a master of dark juju” … my brain perked up. THIS SOUNDS SO COOL. Thank you for bringing it to our attention.

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