Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Akata Witch Review

Book talk:  "Akata Witch!" Sunny was used to the taunt, but that didn't make it sting any less. As an albino who spent the first nine years of her life in America, Sunny was used to not fitting in with her Nigerian classmates, but she had no idea how different she was until she saw the end of the world in a candle's flame and discovered  that she really did have magical powers.  In Nigeria, those with magical abilities are called Leopard People and at first Sunny doesn't know what to make of their world.  Among Leopard People what sets you apart is what gives you strength and because Sunny is so different she is also very powerful.  At first her abilities and the new world they show her are thrilling, but before long she realizes that with her powers come a price and for every benefit the Leopard People have to offer there is a hidden danger lurking as well.

Rocks my socks: I have always been drawn to tales of outsiders and this is a story that any outsider will love.  In the world Okorafor creates when Sunny's friend Orlu's parents were informed that their son was dyslexic, they rejoiced because it meant that he would be powerful. Wisdom is also highly valued: when you learn something chittim, the Leopard People currency, rains down from the sky.  The most powerful Leopard Person in town is the head librarian--what's not to love about that? Books are powerful, but they can also be biased and I appreciated that little lesson in information literacy as well.  While valuing wisdom and oddities are the ideals of this world, Okorafor avoids unrealistic utopian imagery by showing that it is not always the case.  Nature plays a big part in the world but it's still clear that the story takes place in modern times: when Sunny has to make a blood pact her first thought is of HIV and when she is first initiated into the society of Leopard People her teacher explains it to her by saying that she was like a computer that came with programs pre-installed that just needed to be activated.  There are several strong females characters and a great scene where Sunny negotiates her way into a soccer match that is usually all-boys and proves her ability to play.  There are many great, imaginative pieces throughout.  My favorite is the artist wasp that stings you if you don't praise its work enough, which briefly paralyzes you so you are forced to watch as it creates a final masterpiece and dies dramatically. This novel is best summed up by the passage "Sunny couldn't stop grinning. Life was getting weirder and weirder.  But this weirdness she really  liked."

Rocks in my socks: Sunny spends the first part of the novel confused from a lack of information about the magical world and the reader shares her confusion.  There are also occasional details that don't add up.  For example at one point Sunny says to Orlu "you and I have been going to the same school since we were about five" but at several other points in the novel she says she did not return to Nigeria until she was nine.  They often say that chittim can only be earned through knowledge but though that is how it initially appears it is also used as currency--it is exchanged for goods and services so clearly you can earn it the usual way as well.  Learning things just seems to be the way inflation is created.  The villain of the novel is often mentioned in passing but never interacts with the protagonists until the end and when they finally do confront him it is very brief and anti-climatic.

Every book its reader: Those who feel different or like they don't belong will find a welcome waiting for them in Okorafor's world. Fans of fantasy who are looking for something beyond the usual fare will delight in this unique world of imagination and magic.  The novel can get a dark at times (the villain regularly appears in the newspaper for killing and maiming children) but it is not particularly violent and violence is not glorified.  In fact any injuries made with their magical knives are reflected on their own bodies.  I'd say it's good for 5th grade and up.

Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor

Buy it or check it out today!

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