Spoiler Warning: Akata Witch (only in one specific section, which is noted beforehand)
Trigger Warning: Discussion of ableist tropes in fiction
Recently, I read Nnedi Okorafor’s Akata Witch. It’s a young adult fantasy novel, set in Nigeria, which came out back in 2011 from Penguin Books. If you enjoy narratives about characters discovering their magic, or are interested in learning about magic in a culture that isn’t often seen represented in the US, I highly recommend this book. It’s a lot of fun, and the characters are vibrant and interesting.
I’d also like to point out that the cover art actually fits the book.
The main character, Sunny, is 12. She’s American-born, but moved to Nigeria with her parents and brothers. Sunny, like most of the people she knows, is Igbo, but often feels out of place because she is (a) from America, and (b) an albino. Nnedi Okorafor herself is also American-born, and her parents were Nigerian immigrants. During the book, Sunny makes new friends and meets new enemies as she discovers the world of Leopard People, African sorcerers.
Just to be clear, I went into this with absolutely no knowledge of Nigerian culture, magic or otherwise, or any specific prejudices that might exist against African-Americans in parts of Africa. I had never even heard of the Igbo people. So reading this book, I was being introduced to a lot of new concepts. I still know very little beyond what I read in this book, though I’m certainly interested in learning more.
Both I and my mother enjoyed this book immensely and are very much looking forward to the sequel; however it would also be a great read for younger teens and adolescents. It’s full of magic, emotion, and well written characters, male and female.
The only thing which bothered me somewhat about this book was the treatment of disability (warning, the following three paragraphs contain spoilers): The main character is albino, and while she initially talks about how frustrating the stereotypes about “magic albinos” are, she ends up being just that. In general, disabilities in this book seem linked to magical powers–either people aren’t actually disabled, or their magical powers are based on their disabilities and compensate entirely for them. Not only that, but all the negative side effects of Sunny’s albinism disappear as she realizes her powers. She still looks albino, but she can go out in the sun.
On the one hand, I love disabled magic user characters. More of those please. Also more disabled heroes. Just, generally more disabled characters would be good.
On the other hand, the book is enforcing both the “magical disabled person” trope, in which a disability is really a sort of blessing, or an indicator of the character’s magical otherness, and the “fixed disability” trope. (This happens early in the book, at least, rather than being presented as the happy ending or the hero’s reward).
Overall, though, a great book. Give it a read, and look out for the sequel (tentatively called Breaking Kola) coming in 2015.