My review of the book Akata Witch
By Nnedi Okorafor https://nnedi.com/
I finished listening to the book. I’m sad. I get sad when good books end. (But there are two more in the The Nsibidi Script Series so…YAY.) I was very surprised that none of our four protagonists died, but also I’m super relieved!
If you haven’t read the book, here’s why you should read it: 1) It’s about being in between or both – She is Nigerian and American. She is Black and Albino. 2) I’m 51, and I’ve been reading about male main characters for a long time. This main character is smart, empathetic, curious, mindful, creative, and female. Her female-ness isn’t the most important thing about her, but it IS important for us all to learn from thoughtful, bright young women.
Favorite parts: I love the nicknames. I love that there is a person named “Calculus” and someone named “Sugar Cream!” Also, I used to have a pal named “Sonny,” so I love that name. I always think about whether someone named Sunny is sunny. In this book, I did wonder if the author named her Sunny also because she describes her skin as “yellow-ish.” I do also know a funny toddler named “Sonny” like Sonny Bono!
Silliest part: I thought it was funny that coins fell out of the sky when they learned. I’m glad we are rewarding learning, but also – the way the coins drop reminded me of a video game.
Sometimes I think about how people with “magical” abilities are supposed to – and often can – hide their abilities. In real life, most people’s disabilities are super visible. For example, everyone can see Sonny’s albino skin. She can’t hide it, and people treat her differently – sometimes very badly – because of it. Now, she can use her beautiful magic, but they demand she hides it. (See also: the way superheroes have “normal” identities.) Also, some people treat invisible disabilities like ADHD or Depression with impatience and sometimes disbelief and rudeness!
Also, sorry – this is negative, but it’s hard to tell the difference (maybe just for me) between a special, beautiful, magical town and a ghetto. In 2022, I try to love Jewish places. Aren’t I really lucky to be in a Jewish place where people “get me” and where people “speak my language” and I can live on Jewish time?! Yay.
You can read more about this historical issues here – https://jwa.org/blog/postcards-from-yiddishland , AND You can see more info about this historical conflict here – https://www.tenement.org/
On the other hand, I used to visit a neighborhood of Ethiopian immigrants to volunteer in Jerusalem, but it also reminded me of when European countries and their original home in Ethiopia would restrict where Jewish people were ALLOWED to live and work. Some people told me – it was just a fast way to make sure all the immigrants had safe homes. Regardless, it’s not like that anymore. Here is some background about that neighborhood – Givat HaMatos – https://jcpa.org/article/givat-hamatos-strategic-jerusalem-neighborhood-freeze/
Also, it reminds me of the women’s sections in traditional synagogues. So lovely for me to be surrounded by women and girls, but I get MAD when I remember WHY the men created the sections in the first place.
Here are two more motifs I think about a lot:
MOTIF #1a – I don’t like the idea of “Don’t tell your parents.”
Here is some more info about the difference between a bad secret and a good surprise https://www.canr.msu.edu/news/keeping-youth-safe-surprises-versus-secrets
I get that – in books and movies, sometimes the kids don’t tell the adults about plans because then the adults will stop them from fighting evil. I get that – in fiction – that is an exciting way to set up a cool adventure for kids. In real life, it is the job of the adults who have kids’ best interest at heart to figure out the best way to protect you from bad stuff.
MOTIF #1b – a corollary – instead of not telling their parents – their parents are dead or gone?! Oy vey.
I know that in a lot of kids’ literature the parents die. I get that in kids’ literature this is a theme. Like Bambi.
Then, the kids are mostly on their own or stuck with bad guardians in bad situations.
First of all, so sad.
Second, I feel really uncomfortable telling kids not to trust adults! I’m not saying that all adults are great. (They are not.) However, I do not like secrets. I think surprises can be cool, but I think all kids need a few different kind, trustworthy adults to help them get through life. Not just crossing streets when they are little and other stuff like that, but also helping kids see things from different perspectives at different times. And to remind kids that what seems permanent might be temporary. AND ENCOURAGING KIDS!
I read somewhere but I cannot remember where – probably way back in college – that most kid literature indulges in a fantasy life where the kids are actually part of something bigger and cooler than their regular lives of healthy breakfasts, bedtimes, school rules, etc. That kids imagine they are really princesses or wizards. That kids dream about leaving their parents behind and finding their true, magical, royal, special purpose, but I do also know that Sonny wishes she could know her mother, aunt, and grandmother better. That Sonny wishes that her dad could be kinder and more interested in her life, the way he is interested in her brothers.
MOTIF #2 – I actually really like the idea that kids have special abilities and can save the universe. AS LONG AS THERE IS REAL TEAMWORK. I love teamwork.
I love teachers, books, authors who tell kids – You have strength and creativity and ideas that you can use to make the world better – no matter your age!
This motif is part of why I love Stephen King books so much. King loves rescuing kids with special abilities. He loves a group of kids who come together to protect each other (and usually their town and the whole world) from anything bad or evil.
Stephen King loves kids and magic. He loves bikes and friendships. He loves when kids who are suffering work together to make their world better. He believes that kids can fix bad stuff, and it always makes me feel better.
One of the main things I’ve learned from Stephen King is that some adults can still see “magic.” I used to worry that my ability to connect with kids was weird or bad – as if I am not growing up properly. My dad says that, when I was in 5th grade, I told him I didn’t want to ever have kids. He thought I would change my mind, but I didn’t.
In the book IT, the adults who didn’t become parents retained the ability to see and conquer evil. I really like this idea. I want to be an adult kids can trust to help them fight their battles against anything evil or scary. https://stephenking.com/works/novel/it.html
Is Stephen King right for everyone? No. Some people cannot stand horror, and kids are too young to read most Stephen King books – even though I really think that some of his messages would be really healthy for kids to read. For adults who want to read Stephen King and other scary stuff, here is my gift to you!
My tips for the scary/gory parts!!
I used to never read/watch horror, but now I only read/watch horror. I have learned over and over that life is not about happy endings, perfect days, or perfect relationships. So much of the “happy” books and shows feel contrived to me now. Most days, only horror makes sense to me. I am not recommending this life/perspective. However, I have learned a lot that I think might help other people when they encounter scary stuff.
- Don’t read in the dark. Don’t read scary stuff alone. If you can look up from your book to a sunny spot or to peoplewatch, the fear can’t really take you over.
- Don’t close your eyes (especially if you are reading). Your imagination is way scarier and more detailed/real than anything the movie or tv studios can invent/produce.
- Be curious. While whatever is happening in the book or on screen, if it freaks you out, think to yourself: How did they do that?! Because it’s never really the real thing. It’s never real blood. It’s corn syrup with food coloring! They aren’t really injuries. That’s make-up!
- Pretend you are in the middle of writing a review. Note down any good or bad lines of dialogue. Note which scenes work and which scenes look silly or fake.
- Sometimes, look away at something normal, like your slippers or your snack. Think to yourself: Isn’t it silly that peanut butter and celery can exist in the same world as this book/movie!?
That is the main thing!