Just like most readers who grew up with Harry Potter, I’m always on the lookout for the next best thing. This is how I became interested in Akata Witch. Readers kept calling it the Nigerian Harry Potter and a brilliant take on the magical kids trope. I was intrigued because it sounded different enough that I might actually find what I was looking for. I read it as part of the Hebban book club but unfortunately, I was a little disappointed.
The book is about a young girl called Sunny. She was born in Nigeria but lived almost her entire life in New York. When she’s twelve, her parents move back to Nigeria, which is where she finds out she’s a Leopard. Sunny never really feels like she fits in because of the way she looks. She’s albino and can’t stand being out in the sun for too long. When she learns about the magical community, Sunny also needs to learn to accept who she is, strangeness and all.
Although there are many things I liked about Akata Witch- the message of self-acceptance being one of them – the biggest problem I had with it was that the world didn’t feel full enough for me. A lot of reviews say that the world-building was done well, and I agree that a lot of the ideas of the world were really cool. I like the idea of innate abilities, spirit faces, ghost hoppers and have become a little obsessed with masquerades. Okorafor definitely has a great sense of imagination, but all these details are often nothing more than just fun ideas which aren’t meaningful to the world or to the characters in it. They have no consequence, they change the world in no way and too often these things are mentioned once to never return again. I’d say the book has a pretty bad case of Time Turner-Syndrome, which is still the biggest offense in my muggle-universe.
But I could overlook all of this if either the story or the characters were great. Unfortunately, the writing felt distant and impersonal to me. There is a lot of blatant exposition throughout the book and instead of showing me who the characters are and what they feel, Okorafor straight up tells you. It made the book feel very childish to me, more so than I expect from a YA novel. Weirdly, I did like the characters. The four kids were sweet and had their flaws, but besides liking them, I didn’t feel much more while reading about them. I think this is a consequence of the writing style, where I just don’t feel close enough for them to really get under my skin.
Pacing is also definitely a problem for Akata Witch. Most of the plot is spent on Sunny figuring out the world of the Leopard people, which to me is always the best part of these kinds of stories. But again, I didn’t feel enough wonder and excitement about any of it, because it’s told in such a matter of fact way. The worst example of this was the final fight. The children are supposed to be in really terrible danger, but I felt no excitement about it whatsoever. And somewhere I think that Okorafor maybe doesn’t want us to feel excited either, because whenever there is danger, it seems like we fast-forward through it, otherwise it would be too scary. I would have loved to see this book go to a more dangerous place, to really show the ‘realistic’ conclusion of children going into battle with a demon, instead of a deus ex machina solution that resolves all tension.
And I know I’m not the most patient person when it comes to sports in novels, but why did we spend more time on a soccer game than on the fight with the final big evil? That fight was over in a couple of sentences while the soccer game just went on and on. The priorities of this story were really imbalanced for me and I would have much rather learned more about that awesome library and these crazy magical mentors than about a non-juju soccer match.
I do feel like the comparisons to Harry Potter are definitely warranted. There are many similarities between the worlds and both authors made similar mistakes in the first book of the series. Maybe Akata Warrior will be better, but right now I’m not sure I’ll be picking it up.
Interested in reading Akata Witch?
I’d still definitely recommend reading this book if you like to see a different cultural take on a magical world. The Leopard people are interesting enough to sustain a fun read and I just want more people to know about masquerades because those things are scary in an awesome way. You can order the book through Bol.com here and through Bookdepository here. Did you read Akata Witch? Let me know what you thought of it in the comments!