Akata Witch

Akata Witch paperback cover

Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor (Website, Twitter, Insta)

Genre: fantasy, MG

Setting: Near Abuja, Nigeria

I read it as a(n): paperback

Source: my own collection

Length: 349 pp

Published by: Viking Children’s (14 April 2011)

Her Grace’s rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Sunny is a young American girl born to Nigerian parents. Although she was born in New York, her family returned to Nigeria when she was 9 so that Sunny and her brothers could grow up knowing their culture and heritage. Sunny doesn’t feel like she fits in anywhere, since in America she is considered Nigerian, and in Nigeria she’s considered American. Everywhere she goes, she is albino. She can’t go in the sun and carries an umbrella with her everywhere. She can’t play soccer except sometimes at night with her brothers. And on top of it all, now she is seeing visions in candle flames. 

Her childhood friend, Orlu, and their neighbor Chichi discover that Sunny is a talented witch, for lack of a better term. So are they, and Sasha, a friend from the US who was also born to Nigerian parents. The four of them make an oha coven, a group of people whose magic and physical traits are perfectly balanced. Their mentor begins training the children and helping them to learn the extent of their juju. However, none are skilled enough to take on a brutal murderer of children who is himself a highly advanced juju man. And yet, they must confront him not only to save innocent lives, but to prevent an ancient and terrible being from being brought forth into their world.

A super fun and speedy read from Okorafor. The descriptions of Nigerian culture are evocative and rich and, even though this story is at its heart a fantasy, I feel like I was able to learn a bit about Nigerian culture by reading it. My favorite parts were where there were food descriptions. We can learn so much about a place and people through the food they serve. I absolutely am inspired now to look up some Nigerian recipes and give them a try. 

There was a strong theme of the bonds of friendship throughout this novel. Without friendship and trust, none of the kids would have survived the various magickal events and tests they endured. As they mature, I think the idea of their perfectly balanced group is that they will pair off into couples, thus strengthening the magic of the entire group as well as individually. I’ll see if I’m right when I read the sequel, Akata Warrior

So far, this is 5-0 in favor of Okorafor! I’ve read all three Binti novellas, Who Fears Death, and now this one and have really enjoyed all of them. That’s almost unheard of for me. This one is a younger book than I would typically read, but I still liked it a lot and it covers one of the Read Harder tasks. Recommended for all who enjoy fantasy, especially if you are looking to branch out and find books set somewhere other than the US or Britain, and who like to learn about various cultures.

Lightning Round: Inside Out and Back Again and Too Much and Never Enough

IInside Out and Back Againnside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai

Genre: MG biographical fiction

Setting: Vietnam and Alabama

I read it as a(n): paperback

Source: my own collection

Length: 262 pp

Published by: Scholastic (22 Feb 2011)

Her Grace’s rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

This novel is the story of Ha, who flees Vietnam with her mother and brothers to escape the war. They end up in Alabama where they are hosted by a family that Ha thinks is a family of cowboys. The story tells of her challenges in adapting to life in 1970s America.

The story is written in verse and makes for a very lyrical novel. The way Lai uses imagery in her poems makes the emotions Ha and her family are feeling visceral. They are afraid to leave their home, they worry that they don’t have news about Ha’s father or where he might be, and they feel like they are abandoning him and their culture to leave and set up a new life for themselves in America. When they get there, Ha’s fears are justified because she cannot speak English, people think she is dumb because of it, and the people in general are close-minded and unwilling to accept them as part of their community. It was a bittersweet story and a very good one to use to discuss the experiences of refugees with your children.

(I refuse to put a pic of this book cover here. I don’t want to see its ugly face)

Too Much and Never Enough by Mary L. Trump 

Genre: nonfiction/biography

Setting: mostly New York

I read it as a(n): hardback

Source: my own collection

Length: 225 pp

Published by: S&S (14 July 2020)

Her Grace’s rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Mary Trump is Donald Trump’s niece, if anyone at all has been under a rock and didn’t learn that by now. She has a PhD in psychology and uses it to explain the excrescence that is her uncle, by diabolical fate the President of the United States. 

While this book really didn’t give any new information to those of us who have been paying attention, it is still nice to have our suspicions about the mango Mussolini confirmed by a member of the family who is an expert in the field. However, she seems to place all the blame squarely on the shoulders of his parents, in particular his dad. Yes, I am sure their horrible parenting impacted how he grew up. But doing so also takes the blame off of him – AGAIN – and makes it so he is not responsible for his actions. There are plenty of kids who had awful childhoods, far worse than Donny’s gilded negligence, and those people didn’t turn into malignant narcissists. So fuck that. He had a shitty childhood but he is the one who chooses cruelty over compassion and is a loathsome creature. 

Also, if I had a family like that, I would drop them so fucking fast you’d think I discovered warp drive. The fact that she hasn’t done so kind of seems to me like she’s sticking around in hopes of getting some money after all. That, or a scorching case of Stockholm Syndrome. Or both. #armchairpsychiatry. Whatever the case is, it rings hollow in a lot of ways.

Wonder

11387515Wonder  by RJ Palacio (website, Twitter)

Her Grace’s rating:  3.5 out of 5 stars

Genre: Contemporary lit, middle school

I read it as a: hardback

Source: my daughter’s collection

Length: 314 pp

Published by: Knopf (14 Feb 2012)

Wonder is the story of August ‘Aggie’ Pullman, a boy who was born with a rare condition that leaves him with severe facial abnormalities. Because he spent so many years having various surgeries and health issues, Auggie never went to traditional school and was instead homeschooled by his mother. Then, 5th grade comes around and Auggie’s parents decide he needs to start attending a regular school. He tests into a well respected private school and starts middle school. A group of kids who were asked by the principal to keep an eye on Auggie and help him out are integral to his experiences in his first year at real school and Auggie learns that some people hide surprising depths. 

My daughter read this in her class this year and she really liked it. She wanted me to read it as well and since I enjoy talking about books with her, I was happy to do so. I found the multiple perspectives to be effective in giving various angles to Auggie’s story. Sometimes, multiple POVs are just disorganized or distracting but it works well in this narrative. The book starts out with Auggie’s POV then shifts between his older sister Via, her friend Miranda, Jack, Via’s boyfriend Justin, and Auggie’s friend Summer. I do wish there had been a perspective for each of his parents and for Mr Tushman, the principal. It would have been insightful to get the views from adults who were a big part of Auggie’s story as well, so I feel that a lot of added depth was missed by leaving them out. 

I enjoyed seeing the ways in which Auggie grew over the course of his first year in a real school. I have long said kids can be real assholes, and it held true in this book, but it was also a good example of how kids learn from example as well. Some are born assholes and some are born kind, but often they can be influenced one way or the other by the way they are raised. One kid was apparently born an asshole and that was reinforced by his horrid mother; another was basically good but his childhood reinforced ways for him to be an asshole; and one kid is just a good kid, although we don’t see the parents to know how they are raising their kids. 

The overarching message was, of course, to be kinder than is necessary. I think this is a really relevant theme for kids to learn, all the time, but especially now. With the cruel, racist, hateful Trump administration eroding compassion and empathy everywhere, it is nice to read something that sends a good message, even though it was written well before that thing became President. Yes, I will find a way to make even a kid’s book political, because fuck Trump. NO, I am not empathetic to him or his toadies. 

ANYWAY. It is a good message to teach kids not to judge anyone by the way they look, whether it is the color of their skin, the clothes they wear, or if they have medical conditions making them look different from most people. Auggie is a cool, funny, smart boy, but many people would never know it because they are shallow and freak out about the way he looks rather than trying to know the person inside. 

Definitely recommended reading for all parents and kids. Reading it together is even better. Talk to each other.