Sunny is a 12-year-old who lives in Nigeria. She was born in the United States, but that isn’t what makes her so different from her classmates. Her albino skin and hair does that. Sunny is also a great athlete, but she can’t play because her sun reacts so strongly to the sun. She only gets to play when her brothers agree to play with her in the evening. Sunny isn’t sure she will ever fit in, but after meeting Orlu and ChiChi, the three of them figure out why Sunny is so special. She’s a free agent, a member of the Leopard People, allowing her to do juju or magic. Happily, Orlu and ChiChi are also Leopard People, though not free agents. Suddenly Sunny is immersed in a new dual life. Her old life of school and family and her new life learning about juju. But there is also darkness in her life, as a serial killer preys upon children in Nigeria: a killer who has a special connection to Sunny.
This book is incredible. Okorafor has created a completely unique and entirely formed world within a world. She brings modern Nigeria to life and then within it creates an entire society that makes sense, wields magic, and continually surprises and delights. The construct of the magical society doesn’t linger on the how, rather it is presented as a fully-formed world complete with its own laws, own priorities, and a matter-of-fact relationship to death.
The characters of the four young people in the book are well written and play nicely off of one another. I particularly enjoyed when they would depart from roles that could have been stereotypical and instead revealed themselves to be very well-rounded characters. Sunny serves as an ideal person for the readers to learn about the magical world alongside. She is interested, questioning and frank. She is a very strong female protagonist who can play soccer better than the boys.
If you have teens or tweens looking for magical reads that break into a whole new territory, this book is for them. It celebrates Nigeria, magic and learning. Appropriate for ages 11-14.
Reviewed from copy received from Viking Publishing.
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