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370 pages, Paperback
First published April 14, 2011
Sunny was born in New York, but recently moved back to her homeland (Aba, Nigeria) and that transition has not been easy.
We embrace those things that make us unique or odd. For only in these things can we locate and then develop our most individual abilities.
There will be danger; some of you may not live...It's a risk you take. This world is bigger than you...There were many things that I loved about this novel - it felt so uniquely crafted and the world building was fun and exciting.
Prejudice begets prejudice, you see. Knowledge does not always evolve into wisdom.
Home will never be the same once you know what you are. Your whole life will change. Nigeria is already full of groups, circles, cultures. We have many ways. You are Yoruba, Hausa, Ibibio, Fulani, Ogoni, Tiv, Nupe, Kanuri, Ijaw, Annang, and so on. You add being a Leopard Person to that and your groups split into a thousand more groups. The world becomes that much more complicated.
Learn how to learn. Read between the lines. Know what to take and what to discard.
Sunny lives in Nigeria, but she was born in America. She is both Nigerian and American. An outsider who belongs. Sunny is different from her family in more ways than one. She’s albino, but she has also seen the end of the world in the flame of a candle. She’s a free agent— a Leopard Person who is not from a family of Leopard People. She has no knowledge of the magic that flows within her or the spirit world that is both her friend and enemy. There’s a serial killer pillaging the streets and killing kids and it’s up to her and three new friends to stop him. This is unique. When I requested this novel, I hadn’t realized that Nnedi Okorafor was the author of Binti, a hugely popular scifi that has been sweeping the book world by storm. This is my first time reading Okorafor’s work and it will not be my last. The writing is beautiful and the storytelling is rich. Okorafor merges the world of Nigeria with the hidden world of Leopard Knocks seamlessly. The imagery is stunning and one of my favorite things about Akata Witch was the excerpts from the book about Free Agents. We learned about Leopard People as Sunny does and it puts the reader on equal footing with Sunny. It makes the story more intimate because the reader develops relationships and knowledge as the main protagonist does. It’s a wonderful, well-developed story full of magic, mischief, and innocence.
The main female character is Sunny. Sunny is a very young protagonist; she’s only twelve-years-old. She doesn’t know much about the world and her thoughts can feel a little silly, but it’s important to keep in mind that Sunny is experiencing a world that is unfamiliar to her. This is a world that children know about since birth if they are born into it and this world is also brutal. There’s a scene towards the end where Sunny and her friends attend a wrestling match that results in someone dying. It’s very brutal for a child to see this, but her teacher was teaching them a valuable lesson— a lesson that becomes important to their task of defeating Black Hat. I really enjoyed Sunny as a character and I guess I have developed a maternal affection for her. I want to see her succeed in learning about and navigating this new world, but I also want her to be safe. If this series follows Sunny throughout her teen years, I know she’ll grow into a badass woman.
The other characters in Sunny’s friend group are integral to this story. Without her friends, Sunny wouldn’t know of her true self or be able to embrace who she really is. There’s ChiChi, Orlo, and Sasha. ChiChi is a wonderful character with a lot of spunk and heavy doses of snark. She’s fierce, but reckless. She’s very bright for her age (whatever that age may be), but she’s also too cocky. It puts her and others at danger, but this characterization makes ChiChi authentic and feel real. Orlo is Sunny’s classmate at the Lamb school (Lambs are outsiders who are not Leopard People, non-magic folk) and he comes to her aid after several fights. He has the unique talent of mending things that are undone and he’s reserved. Orlo calculates situations and doesn’t make rash decisions without thinking about them. He adheres to the rules of the Leopard People and doesn’t believe they should be pushed or broken. Sasha is from the United States and is outsider in Nigeria, but a Leopard Person through and through. He has a lot of power for being young, but he is reckless and has a vendetta against authority figures. He doesn’t respect those with power and believes that rules are meant to broken. He’s definitely rebellious, but he isn’t a bad person. He just makes a lot of foolish and bad decisions, but most young kids do. Together the four children have a strong bond and they are definite friendship goals. Anatov is their mentor and teacher. He’s wise and does a lot questionable things, but the lessons always outweigh the risks. Messing with juju is dangerous and it can lead to death; Anatov doesn’t let the kids forget it and leads them to many missions that can harm them. I also really enjoyed the balancing of Sunny’s family life with her new life. Her relationship with her mother, especially towards the end, takes a new shift and brought a smile upon my face.
The Villain- Black Hat is a serial killer who targets children. He takes limbs and seems to be practicing some type of ritual sacrifice. It is revealed later on that he has a role in the Leopard Knocks society and an even bigger part to the end of the world that Sunny has seen.
My only problem, and it’s a bit of a big one, is the ending. The ending felt rushed and the big battle showdown wasn’t as climactic as the novel kept building it up to be. It felt a little too convenient and everything just worked out so well. That’s why I can’t give this novel a full 5 stars, but I’m really excited about the sequel to Akata Witch and I know that this will be a series I don’t want to miss.
What I personally love best about the novel is how well it plays on the confusion of identities that affect so many Nigerians, especially those who've split time between Nigeria and the U.S. or Europe as children. I certainly remember returning from America to Nigeria at the age of ten, after seven years abroad, and encountering hostility and ridicule as an outsider, feeling as if I didn't really belong on any of the three continents I'd called home at one time or another, and finding my way mostly in the company of fellow misfits. Akata Witch integrates these experiences neatly into a greater framework, ultimately grounding itself in the age-old storyline clash between earnest goodness and utter evil. Reading the book is a transporting experience but with a good deal of shocks and jolts that bring the narrative suddenly near at hand. I suspect I gained much particular enjoyment from the familiar flashes of tradition and language, but I suspect other less familiar readers would enjoy the same bits as flashes of exotic wonder without losing the story. No less an august commentator than Ursula K. Le Guin said "There's more vivid imagination in a page of Nnedi Okorafor's work than in whole volumes of ordinary fantasy epics." If you want a fresh take on novels about children immersed in a magical world, in a colorful and engaging setting, I highly recommend Akata Witch.