Bookmarks Issue: 

A-AkataWitchNnedi Okorafor is an American author and the daughter of Nigerian immigrants. Her award-winning novels, Zahrah the Windseeker (2005) and The Shadow Speaker (2007), are both set in Nigeria, a country she once described as her muse.

The Story: In Nigeria, 12-year-old Sunny Nwazue suffers from the triple handicap of being an American, an albino, and a witch. Her sensitive skin prevents her from playing soccer, a sport she loves, and her schoolmates call her akata, a derogatory term for blacks born or living outside Nigeria. Sunny is befriended by Orlu, Chichi, and Sasha, three children also considered outcasts. With the help of her new friends, she learns to develop her newfound juju, or magic, in order to stop a serial killer plaguing the town.
Viking Juvenile. 349 pages. $17.99. ISBN: 9780670011964

Brooklyn Rail 4 of 5 Stars
"[A] provocative meditation on ethnicity and identity, while also challenging Western critics who neglect Young Adult writing. ... Akata Witch reminds young readers that neither fantasy heroes nor Western nations have a guaranteed ‘special destiny,' but it also celebrates the shared adventure of everyday life on our planet." Matthew Finch

Los Angeles Times 4 of 5 Stars
"The book is similar in theme to many other coming-of-age fantasies, but the details are distinctly African, the language unrushed and elegant. ... Akata Witch is a much-needed addition to the many titles featuring Caucasian protagonists--one that will appeal to readers who are interested in foreign cultures, tradition and beliefs, or those who live between cultures themselves." Susan Carpenter

Parenthetical 4 of 5 Stars
"Nigeria, an African country, is portrayed as a place where normal people live out their lives--not crushingly impoverished people, not people in a war zone, but kids and adults who go to school and have jobs and cell phones. ... Akata Witch is a much-needed mirror for African-American kids and West African kids who like fantasy, and a heck of a rich, entertaining sliding door for everyone else."

Waking Brain Cells 4 of 5 Stars
"Okorafor has created a completely unique and entirely formed world within a world.  She brings modern Nigeria to life and then within it creates an entire society that makes sense, wields magic, and continually surprises and delights." Tasha

Critical Summary

A kid discovers she has magical abilities and teams up with friends to stop a killer. There are enough similarities to the Harry Potter books here to warrant mention of them. But Okorafor's novel is rich with details of everyday life in Nigeria, an uncommon setting that will delight readers unfamiliar with that world. "Despite this pointed commentary on race, the defining characteristic of Akata Witch is cross-cultural tolerance" (The Brooklyn Rail). The fantasy fiction here is strong, and the African setting adds new dimensions. Okorafor weaves an evocative tale with a young heroine not easily forgotten.