by Nnedi Okorafor
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?
Akata Witch has been on my TBR for the longest time. I love stories about witches and I love stories set in Nigeria, so I’m sorry to say I didn’t love this.
American-born Sunny Nwazue has moved to Nigeria with her family, where she’s something of an outcast at school. Having albinism doesn’t exactly help Sunny blend in either–especially when she needs to carry an umbrella with her to protect her skin from the sun.
When she discovers she has magical powers, however, her life changes completely, and she and the new friends she makes discover they must defeat a serial killer who’s been murdering and mutilating children.
I think it’s time for Nnedi Okorafor and I to part ways. This is the third book I’ve read by her, having already read the first two novellas in her Binti series, and I just don’t click with her writing. I always feel held at a distance by it, and for someone who wants to be emotionally invested in the stories I read that’s a real problem.
In fact one of my biggest issues with Akata Witch is that there’s no feeling in it. After seeing a man die, this group of children shrug it off and play a game of football on the very field he just died on. What the hell? Okorafor’s ideas are interesting but so much of the dialogue felt incredibly awkward and, for me, there was no emotion in any of it.
From the blurb I was led to believe this was going to be a novel about this group of children taking down a serial killer, but for the most part the novel meanders along, introducing Sunny to the world and developing her magic. Considering Sunny is a complete stranger to magic this is completely understandable, but the ending is so rushed and easily solved that it felt incredibly underwhelming. It’s one of those strange novels that’s both too slow and too fast.
One thing I will say in this novel’s defence is that I don’t think it’s fair how often it’s compared to Harry Potter. This may come as a shock, but J.K. Rowling didn’t actually invent the concept of teaching children magic. Who knew? I’ve even seen reviewers criticise the fact that children use knives to work their magic while wands are used in Harry Potter and, again, J.K. Rowling did not invent the magic wand.
A lot of the magic was really interesting, which makes me wish I’d enjoyed this novel, but when Sunny discovers her magic it cures one of the symptoms of her albinism and that left a really bad taste in my mouth. We don’t need the ‘magical cure’ trope in fiction anymore, thanks.
What ultimately made me uncomfortable while reading this book, though, was how these kids were sexualised. When you reach 12 and 13 it’s a weird time, you’re not quite a child and not quite a teenager and kids are so often in a rush to grow up, but I found the way Sunny’s friend Chichi was treated pretty disturbing. Chichi never discloses her age, but it’s safe to say she’s not an adult and, considering she snogs a 14-year-old in this book I’d hope she’s not 18.
Sunny’s older brothers flirt with her, though; another boy casts a spell that tightens her clothes to push up her breasts; and, most worryingly, a much older teacher comments on how there is ‘lust’ in the friendship group. They’re children! Can we not? I love Middle Grade stories in which kids are starting to develop new feelings and trying to figure out how they feel about either the opposite or the same sex as they grow into adolescence, but the way it was done in this novel didn’t work for me at all.
I’m not Nigerian so I can’t speak for any cultural differences throughout this novel – I’d like to find some own voices reviews, and I urge you to do the same before you decide whether or not you want to read it – but I also don’t want to assume any cultural differences, especially when I’ve loved other work by Nigerian authors. Ultimately I’m glad I finally crossed this novel off my TBR, but it’s not for me.