I happened upon this book while browsing in a local library and I am so, so glad that I did. If I hadn't been browsing, I may never have come across it and that is a tremendous shame.
First, I must acknowledge that there are glaring similarities that exist between the world of Akata Witch and the Potterverse. They're there. They're pretty glaringly obvious. I don't consider this a bad thing, necessarily. In fact one benefit to these parallels may be their ability to help the target audience of middle grade readers adjust to a world that is wildly different from the one presented in Harry Potter, and wildly different from the worlds presented in most books - middle grade or otherwise - for that matter. Herein lies the real magic of Akata Witch; the magic that sucked me and spit me out craving more.
The book is set in a Nigeria that is teeming (at least on the DL) with magic. Drawing on the cultural history and landscape of Nigeria and West Africa more generally, Okorafor presents a vibrant and enchanting fantasy world that isn't filled with the genre's typical dragons, castles, and European historical roots. There is so much for the reader to explore, some topics explained well within the pages of Akata Witch and others urging more research outside the confines of the book. For me, these topics for further exploration included folklore, spiritual beliefs, and magical practices.
The book had a very slow build with lots of world building and character development - in other words, right in my wheel house. In general, though, pacing was a bit of a problem. The final confrontation with the book's villain felt a bit rushed. As you probably know by now, this is something I'm willing to mostly overlook for the sake of a good story, fascinating characters, and/or a captivating world. Thankfully, Akata Witch has all three!
Beneath the wonder of the fantastic and fantastical story, Akata Witch also serves as a middle grade primer of sorts in the -isms that plague human society. Most notably, Okorafor presents and tackles the subtleties (and the not so subtle parts) of sexism and racism in a manner that is relatable, especially for an audience of younger readers. The book also does a good job of presenting the problem of identity formation in the face of societal pressures as the reader watches Sunny develop over the course of the book, albeit with a little help from the magical realism. A myriad of other topics - such as the corruption wrought by greed, police brutality in the U.S., and the subtle web of family dynamics - are also ably presented in such a way as to provide the spark for fruitful discussion of difficult but important topics.
In some respect, I'm happy that I waited so long to read this book. Now I don't have to hang on a long time for a sequel. Six years would have been a very, very long time to wait. I'm not a superbly patient person...
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