You could think of this is Harry Potter in Africa if Harry were an albino Nigerian girl, but you'd be wrong. There are some striking similarities between the two franchises to be sure, but by the midway point I think Akata Witch
gains its own legs. Mostly because Okorafor succeeds in vividly mapping out the physical and magical geography of Nigeria and peoples it with interesting, unique and memorable characters. Sure some of them are stock sort of characters you'd expect to meet on the hero's journey, but there's enough individuality to them that they stick out in your memory. Will I remember all their names and how to pronounce them? Probably not. All except Sugar Cream. Yes. Sugar Cream. While the name makes me want to punch a baby in the face for lack of ingenuity, I can't help but feel a certain affinity for her. Akata Witch
is the story of young Sunny Nwazue, an albino girl born to two Igbo Nigerian parents in the United States who return to Nigeria when she is nine years old. This isn't an adjustment story. By the time we meet Sunny, she's already adapted and fit in to (well as much as an albino person might, anyway) Nigerian life and she's a mature twelve years old when she discovers there's something else besides her albinism that makes her unique. Through a school friend she's introduced to the world of Leopard People, people of magical ability and a special destiny that's somehow tied to her mysterious heritage. This book was more an introduction and a set-up of the ground rules that a series should follow, but it was interesting nonetheless. I feel like I learned a whole heck of a lot about Nigerian culture from food to linguistics, religion and family structures. That alone (presented in a readable fashion) should make the book a recommended read for young people to get them to branch out and experience other cultures.
I think this is probably really a three-star book, but Sunny is a respectable female protagonist. One that for once doesn't degenerate into a whiny teen that gets all googly-eyed as soon as a male crosses her path (read: Twilight, Hunger Games). Sunny is capable, intelligent, and out to bring down the gender barriers in Nigerian society wherever she can. This is a heroine and role model in the vein of Hermione and someone I'd want to be a role model for my daughter, so it gets the extra star for doing the female lead right, which is incredibly rare, especially in YA lit.
This book reads like the beginning of a series, and I sincerely hope so, I'd like to read where it goes from here.