A Rogue Librarian's Reading List

{February 7, 2012}   Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor

Plot: Sunny lives in Nigeria but she was born in the U.S. She looks West African but she’s an albino. She loves soccer but she can only play at night. She has never fit in. In her twelft year she discovers that she is even more different than she could ever have imagined: Sunny is a leopard person, a witch. She gains new friends, new powers but also a terrifying duty: to track down the serial killer who has been targetting children in the area.

Blurbs from Ursula K. Le Guin and Diana Wynne Jones are more than enough to make me sit and pay attention. Add to that this gorgeous cover (seriously, I want a print for my wall) and the fascinating concept and I was sold before turning the first page.

The book is as beautiful as the art. Okorafor writes with elegant simplicity and skillfully weaves together the real and the magical to bring her world to vivid life. In a way Akata Witch is a magical school story: a group of young friends learn magic together, get into trouble, go on adventures and save the world. But we’ve left British boarding schools behind for Nigeria. (And can I say how refreshing it is to have a middle grade fantasy where there are next to no white people?) Add to all this the rich Nigerian mythology that informs her magical system and you have the recipe for a brilliant fantasy novel.

But Okorafor doesn’t stop there. She has populated her world with wonderful, complex characters whose differences compliment each other. She takes them on a journey of growth and self-discovery and pits them against terrible dangers. If I had one complaint it’s that I really want to know what happens to Sunny, Chichi, Sasha and Orlu after their confrontation with the serial killer, Black Hat. How does their magic develop? What kind of people will they grow into? Will Sunny and Orlu fall in love? Okorafor has created a whole world and I’m not ready to leave it yet.

Throughout her book, Okorafor includes words written in nsibidi (a Nigerian system of symbols), which really adds to the atmosphere. It is also fascinating: I love languages and I have a special place in my heart for pictoral writing systems. She also includes excerps from her fictional book “Fast Facts for Free Agents” (written by a leopard person who looks down on free agents, leopard people like Sunny with non-magical parents). These are hilarious though I’m sure the fictional author did not mean them to be. I especially like the recipe for Tainted Pepper Soup. ^_^

2012 (#16)


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