Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor children's fantasy book reviewsAkata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor children's fantasy book reviewsAkata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor

Sunny Nwazue, an albino who needs to stay out of the sun, has always been different from the other kids in her school. When her family returned to Nigeria after living in the United States for most of Sunny’s childhood, she never quite found her place. Her strangeness becomes even more obvious when she sees a vision showing what appears to be scenes from the end of the world.

When Sunny finally makes a few friends, she begins to realize there’s a reason for her strangeness, and that she’s not the only weird kid in town. She finds out that she belongs to the Leopard People, an ancient bloodline that endows its descendants with various magical abilities. As Sunny is initiated into this new family, she learns that she and her friends are part of a prophecy related to her frightening apocalyptic vision. Without much knowledge or skills, Sunny and her friends must confront and take down a serial killer who has been stalking their town.

It seems so trite to compare Akata Witch (2011) to HARRY POTTER, but it’s a fair comparison. Readers who enjoy stories about youngsters who are discovering their special powers, being trained in a special school, and then using their powers to combat evil are likely to enjoy Akata Witch. There’s no need to list them here, but there are a lot of parallels to HARRY POTTER which are hard to ignore once you notice it. (And this may be intentional by Nnedi Okorafor. I have not had the chance to read her own statements about her purposes / influences / intentions when writing Akata Witch.)

But this doesn’t at all mean that Akata Witch is derivative; it’s not. The Nigerian spin makes this story fresh and unique and Nnedi Okorafor’s personal (rather than studied) familiarity with Nigeria (people, geography, culture, politics, religion) gives her work a rich texture that I found captivating. This was my favorite aspect of Akata Witch. I also admire Nnedi Okorafor’s writing style which is unadorned, yet graceful, with a lovely undercurrent of humor.

Akata Witch is an exciting, imaginative, and heart-warming story with a unique setting. I’d recommend it for children aged 10 and over, as well as teens and adults. The audio version, which has just been released by Tantor Audio (March 30, 2018), is 9 hours long and read by the perfectly cast Yetide Badaki. Badaki, a Nigerian-American actress, gives a marvelous performance. I loved it.

Akata Warrior, a sequel to Akata Witch, was released last October. I look forward to reading it.Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor

~Kat Hooper

Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor children's fantasy book reviewsI wholeheartedly agree with Kat’s review of Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor. This is an exciting, original novel for young adult and older middle-grade readers, and will appeal to adults as well.

Sunny is a twelve-year-old Igbo girl living in Nigeria, and is an outsider at her school because of her albinism and because she was born in the United States (akata is a slur used in Nigeria toward African-Americans). However, one classmate, Orlu, is friendly to her, and through him Sunny meets two other friends, Chichi and Sasha. Sunny learns that they — and she — are Leopard People, people who can do magic. Now, Sunny has an explanation for the strange visions she has been having, and must balance her regular schooling with secret lessons at a school of magic, Leopard Knocks His Foot.

Readers of HARRY POTTER will be familiar with the idea of a magic school, but Okorafor makes it her own by creating a magic school and system based on West African folklore, architecture, and tradition. I especially liked the chittim, the currency used by Leopard People. Its appearance is based on a real type of money that was historically used in West Africa, and in the world of Akata Witch, it can only be earned by learning. It appears from nowhere anytime a Leopard Person learns something new.

Sunny and her friends discover that they constitute an Oha coven, a group brought together for a specific purpose, and that their purpose is to stop a serial killer who is targeting children. Even fully trained adults have failed to defeat the killer, so Sunny and her friends will need to learn quickly if they are to succeed.

I enjoyed Akata Witch and look forward to reading the sequel, Akata Warrior.

~Kelly Lasiter

Published in 2011. Sunny Nwazue lives in Nigeria, but she was born in New York City. Her features are West African, but she’s albino. She’s a terrific athlete, but can’t go out into the sun to play soccer. There seems to be no place where she fits in. And then she discovers something amazing—she is a “free agent” with latent magical power. And she has a lot of catching up to do. Soon she’s part of a quartet of magic students, studying the visible and invisible, learning to change reality. But as she’s finding her footing, Sunny and her friends are asked by the magical authorities to help track down a career criminal who knows magic, too. Will their training be enough to help them combat a threat whose powers greatly outnumber theirs? World Fantasy Award-winning author Nnedi Okorafor blends magic and adventure to create a lush world. Her writing has been called “stunning” by The New York Times and her fans include Neil Gaiman, Rick Riordan, John Green, Ursula K. Le Guin, and many more!


  • Kat Hooper

    KAT HOOPER, who started this site in June 2007, earned a Ph.D. in neuroscience and psychology at Indiana University (Bloomington) and now teaches and conducts brain research at the University of North Florida. When she reads fiction, she wants to encounter new ideas and lots of imagination. She wants to view the world in a different way. She wants to have her mind blown. She loves beautiful language and has no patience for dull prose, vapid romance, or cheesy dialogue. She prefers complex characterization, intriguing plots, and plenty of action. Favorite authors are Jack Vance, Robin Hobb, Kage Baker, William Gibson, Gene Wolfe, Richard Matheson, and C.S. Lewis.

    View all posts
  • Kelly Lasiter

    KELLY LASITER, with us since July 2008, is a mild-mannered academic administrative assistant by day, but at night she rules over a private empire of tottering bookshelves. Kelly is most fond of fantasy set in a historical setting (a la Jo Graham) or in a setting that echoes a real historical period (a la George RR Martin and Jacqueline Carey). She also enjoys urban fantasy and its close cousin, paranormal romance, though she believes these subgenres’ recent burst in popularity has resulted in an excess of dreck. She is a sucker for pretty prose (she majored in English, after all) and mythological themes.

    View all posts