“Well, I still think books are better than movies.”
My friend just shook his head at me, smiling. I had never been big on movies—I still am not—and I found that books left you more satisfied than two hours spent staring at a screen. When friends asked me, “Have you watched this?” I would always shake my head.
“You haven’t lived!” they would gasp, and I would laugh. Later, as I would flop onto my bed and immerse myself in my books, I would wonder: How is this, how is being different, not living?
Akata Witch, also published as What Sunny Saw in the Flames, is a fantasy novel by Nnedi Okorafor. It tells the story of Sunny Nwazue, an albino girl of mixed tribal roots living in Nigeria. Sunny is often teased for her pale skin. But when she meets Orlu and Chichi, everything changes. Sunny discovers that she is a “Leopard Person,” someone with magical abilities. Soon, with her new friends, she is training for an impossible task—she must defeat one of the most powerful magicians of her time, “Black Hat” Okotoko.
Magic in Akata Witch is quite different from stories like, say, Harry Potter or King Arthur. Instead of wands or staffs, Leopard People use juju knives. Each juju knife is different, and only one will work for you. With a juju knife, Leopard People slash patterns in the air or the ground, which, after a few words, activate charms. Charms also have quite a lot to do with one’s roots. One must often speak the words of an incantation in one’s first language. You are also placed into groups and societies according to your heritage . . . but what if you’re a mix, a tribal mishmash? What are you?
Sunny struggles with her identity. As an African albino of mixed heritage, she becomes an outcast in society. People call her “akata,” a derogatory word for an African-American—besides her mixed heritage, Sunny lived in the United States for nine years. Sometimes, Sunny wishes she was just like other kids, but as her magical abilities grow, she realizes her individuality is a blessing, not a curse.
Akata Witch is a spellbinding book. With its one-of-a-kind magic, Akata Witch illustrates that being different is not “not living”—it’s just another way to live.
Middle-school fantasy, ages 11 and up.
You can buy this book here.