The July book club pick for the Not-So-YA book club at the Little Shop of Stories is Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor.
Sunny Nwazue is the star of this magically delightful novel by Okorafor, a twelve year old girl born to Nigerian parents in New York City who move back to Africa when she’s nine. Sunny would love to play soccer with her older brothers but she can’t stand the sunlight because she’s albino. Needless to say, Sunny has a hard time fitting in. (Does anyone else think that parents naming their albino child ‘Sunny’ is a little bit cruel?). Speaking of cruel, Sunny’s classmates laugh, point, and call her names ‘pale-faced akata witch’ – akata meaning bush animal, a rude term referring to black Americans or other foreign-born blacks.
However, with a little push from a quirky girl named Chichi and Sunny’s classmate Orlu, Sunny quickly learns that she has magical abilities, she is a Leopard Person. Without magical parents or any previous knowledge of magic, Sunny is a ‘free agent’ (think muggleborn). While there is no Hogwarts, Sunny, Orlu, Chichi and fellow American Sasha are all students of a wiser mentor Anatov. As Sunny learns more about herself and the new world she is a part of, chittim rains down around her, the currency tied to the attainment of magical wisdom. With all fantasy stories there is a dark, menacing side to magical power. A serial killer is on the loose – Otokoto the Black Hat is kidnapping and viciously maiming small children from the town. This hodgepodge coven has the monumental task of stopping the sinister, defiler of magic.
One really interesting aspect of this novel was the relationship between the physical world and the spiritual world. All leopard people have your typical physical face but a completely different spirit face, as well as spirit name. Showing another person your spirit face is allowing yourself to be completely vulnerable; you might as well be naked. About half way through the book, the foursome attend a magical festival in Abuja, Nigeria at the Zuma rock. The Zuma International Wrestling Final takes place as two magical warriors blur the lines between the physical and the spiritual to fight to the death. In my opinion, it was one of the most intense scenes in the novel. Akata Witch is my first novel by Okorafor and I was blown away by her story telling ability, by the rich world of magic woven into everyday life in Nigeria.
My one complaint was the abrupt ending of the novel. The stand off between the four youngsters and Black Hat escalates rather quickly which I think is supposed to be part of the point but it still felt rushed. Akata Witch is the first in the series however the novel does wrap up completely without any cliffhangers or loose ends. I mean there are loose ends to be explored in future novels but nothing like a ‘There is no District 12’ ending thank god. The sequel, Breaking Kola, is scheduled for release in 2015.