When Neil Gaiman, Laurie Halse Anderson, Ursula K. Le Guin, and The New York Times Bestseller List tell you to read a book, you read that book. And that book is Akata Warrior by Nnedi Okorafor — the sequel to her Akata Witch. The Akata books have been called the “Nigerian Harry Potter,” but that is not an adequate nor accurate description. It is so much more than that. In my humble opinion, it’s so much better. Nnedi’s writing is brilliant. There’s a reason she’s a winner of the Hugo, Nebula, and World Fantasy awards. Her wonderful, multi-layered characters become well-known friends you can recognize from their tiniest gestures. She also touches on themes of race, otherness, the wealth-gap, and more with strong threads that don’t leave you helplessly bound.
Her main character, Sunny, is a 13 year-old American-born Nigerian girl. Like Nnedi, she moved “back” to Nigeria with her parents and two older brothers when she was nine. She has to reconcile these two countries’ cultures and she is an albino – someone the superstitious fear and may try to harm. It isn’t long before Sunny learns she also belongs to two more cultures: the Lambs, people, like her family, without magical juju, and the Leopards, people who can perform juju because they’re deeply connected to their true mystical abilities. But Sunny is a Free Agent, someone with no living Leopard relatives, and stumbles upon her abilities alone. Luckily, other Leopard teenagers Orlu, Chichi, and Sasha find her and help with her juju education.
Similar to Mr. Potter, perhaps, but there are no English myths or accents dominating this fantasy book. Akata also embraces community in a way most fantasies do not. It isn’t all about Sunny. She has a complete family and a Lamb life she maintains and friends she relies on as she receives her Leopard education and saves her worlds from evil demons. She doesn’t always deliver the final blow, either. Like the excellent soccer player she is, she knows when to pass the ball because “the world is bigger than me.”
Nnedi doesn’t always feel the need to explain what certain clothing, food, etc. may be to non-Nigerian readers, like how British authors don’t explain digestive biscuits. You’re either in the know or you figure it out. I like that. I like that Nnedi’s book is an invitation for me to participate in her culture, but it is not written for me — at least not just for me. She takes Nigeria and its myriad tastes, smells, languages, cultures, and myths and makes them accessible without watering them down. It is truly wonderful thread-weaving, and I can’t wait for more.
Sarah Parker-Lee is a Los Angeles Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators board member & the Managing Editor of Kite Tales, a book reviewer for Dwarf+Giant, a content creator for non-profits fighting injustice all over the interwebs, & is available to edit your writerly endeavors. She writes YA alt. history, sci-fi, & is the creator of Dogs & Zombies: Dog’s Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse. Twitterings: @SarahSoNovel, @DogsAndZombies