On the cover of this book, there's a blurb by Ursula K. Le Guin:
There's more vivid imagination in a page of Nnedi Okorafor's work than in whole volumes of ordinary fantasy epics.
Being a relative newbie to fantasy, especially in terms of quantity and breadth of reading, I can't really say if I agree with Le Guin's statement, but I'm totally going to take her at her word. What I can say from my own experience is that Akata Witch felt completely fresh and unique. While it's embarrassing to admit my complete ignorance of Nigerian cultures, I must because I suspect reading this book with more cultural awareness would make it all the more wonderful an experience. Though in a sense, that also seems impossible, because truly wonderful it was.
It is the story of Sunny, born in America to Igbo parents. Her family moves back to Nigeria when Sunny is nine years old. This fact alone gives Sunny's classmates reason to tease her, call her "akata witch," a derogatory term for foreign-born blacks. Add to that the fact that Sunny is albino, and well, let's just say that Sunny isn't exactly the most popular girl in school. Sunny is intelligent, loves to read, and has awesome foot skills with a soccer ball (though she can only play with her brothers in the evening because of her albinism).
Sunny eventually realizes something else about herself thanks to some new friends, Orlu a boy who befriends her at school and his out-of-school friend Chichi. What they suspect and help Sunny prove is that she's got magical powers. Orlu and Chichi do as well, though they've known this all their lives as they come from Leopard bloodlines. (Leopard People are those with magical powers.) Sunny, on the other hand, is what is called a free agent. Sort of like a muggle-born in Harry Potter's world, I suppose. Leopard People live both in the magical world and in the world of the Lambs (those without magical powers). But the Lambs know nothing of the Leopard world. This makes life difficult for Sunny, as she has to keep her "Leopard life" secret from her family. And soon Sunny is attending Leopard School twice a week (Wed. nights at midnight and Saturdays) with Orlu, Chichi, and another boy from America named Sasha. Attending two schools, learning about two worlds, living two lives...it's both exhausting and exhilarating for Sunny.
I don't want to tell much more about the story...oh, but there is a serial killer...so yeah, this book definitely has its dark moments. But I want to talk about how I felt about the book. Did I mention yet that I loved it? If I didn't, I should be flogged. Because love it, I did! There is a richness to the world Nnedi Okorafor creates, a richness you can almost feel viscerally. It's mysterious, vivid, and yes, frightening at times. It somehow manages to feel simultaneously fantastical and real. And the characters...oh my, I love these kids. Four very different personalities. They fight and tease and disagree, all within these friendships that become strong and powerful. (I totally admit it--I'm a sucker for those sort of friendships that might seem, if not exactly improbable at least a bit unlikely on the surface.)
If I had one complaint about the book, it would be with "the big climactic scene" (I put that phrase in quotes because it's a little too simplistic but I can't really explain without spoilers). Anyway, I felt that things went a little too quickly, a little too easily. BUT...I also have this nagging feeling that the reason I feel that way is because I missed something. I don't know why I have that feeling, but I do. In fact, I really ought to go back and read the last few chapters again. Ha--I just did, but still am left in the same boat.
This is a book I got out from the library...but it's a book that I will now be buying to have a copy of my very own. And yes, I am definitely looking forward to reading Nnedi Okorafor's other books. :)