Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor has been called “the Nigerian Harry Potter.” That’s how I convinced Larrabee to read it, but the comparison doesn’t really capture what I liked most about this fantasy that draws from Nigerian folklore.
Twelve-year-old Sunny Nwazue is an American-born albino living with her parents and older brothers in Aba, Nigeria. The other kids at school bully her and call her a “stupid pale-faced akata witch” (which is extremely rude).
Then, she learns that she is a Leopard Person with magical abilities. Among the Leopards, being an albino, which she’s always considered a weakness, is a rare gift. As she’s initiated into this new world, she discovers that she and her three friends must stop the evil Black Hat Otokoto and the masquerade Ekwensu.
I loved the magical world of this book with its chittim (money that falls from the sky when you gain knowledge), juju knives, and spirit faces.
Although Larrabee read and enjoyed this book, I would recommend it mainly for kids 12 and older. It might be too intense for younger ones.
This book is the first in a series. The sequel, Akata Warrior, is already available, and a third book is planned.
Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys is a beautifully written historical novel set in the winter of 1945.
It’s told from the perspective of four young people all being evacuated from East Prussia at the end of World War II ahead of the advancing Soviet army: Joana, a guilt-ridden Lithuanian nurse; Florian, a Prussian deserter with a secret; Emilia, a pregnant Polish girl; and Alfred, a delusional German sailor.
Joana, Florian, and Emilia join with an unlikely band of refugees on the dangerous road to the port in Gotenhafen. There, they secure passage on a German ship, the Wilhelm Gustloff. Just when they seem safe, though, the ship is struck by torpedoes from a Soviet submarine and begins to sink.
I have read many novels and works of non-fiction about World War II, but I had never heard of the sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff in which more than 9,000 people lost their lives. One reason I like historical fiction is that it can bring to light events that might otherwise be forgotten.
Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo is an excellent book for the upcoming holiday weekend. It’s an absorbing YA fantasy about six outcasts tasked with a seemingly impossible rescue mission.
I always love a good heist story and this one has all the elements: a diverse team with complementary talents, a complicated and ingenious plan, and a bunch of unforeseen obstacles.
Six of Crows is darker than the books I usually review on Imaginary Friends, but I didn’t hesitate to give it to Blaine. He’s always had a bloodthirsty imagination for his age, though. I’d recommend it for teens and adults, not for younger kids.
This book has multiple viewpoint characters and a complex setting. If you find yourself a little confused at the beginning, keep reading. Once you get into it, you won’t be able to put it down. Best of all, if you finish it before the long weekend is over, the sequel, Crooked Kingdom, is equally captivating.
If you like spy novels and movies as much as Blaine and I do, then you’ll enjoy Stormbreaker by Anthony Horowitz. It’s the first book in a series featuring 14-year-old Alex Rider, pressed into service by MI6 after the death of his uncle.
An Egyptian millionaire has promised to give tens of thousands of his company’s revolutionary new computer to schools across England. The Prime Minister is thrilled, but the offer may be too good to be true. MI6 sent Alex’s uncle to investigate, but he was killed before he could report his findings. Now Alex must go under cover to complete his uncle’s mission.
Stormbreaker is a fast-paced story and a quick read. Like a James Bond movie, though, it requires the willful suspension of disbelief. Alex’s incredible bravery, the villains’ incredible dastardliness, and the outlandish action sequences are all part of the fun. Another part of the fun is trying to figure out how Alex will use his cool teen spy gadgets (such as a Game Boy that is also a fax/photocopier, x-ray device, bug finder, and smoke bomb). And I’ve written about Chekhov’s gun before, but this book has the first Chekhov’s Portuguese man-of-war that I’ve ever seen. Pretty cool.
There are ten books in the series so far, and the 11th book is due out in October.
What could be more idyllic than curling up on a late summer evening with an adventure story set in a dystopian future?
Blaine and I recently finished Legend, the first book in Marie Lu’s dystopian trilogy. It’s set in a future Los Angeles, part of the war-torn Republic. It’s told from the viewpoint of two fifteen-year-olds from different sides of the tracks: June, a top student at an elite military academy, and Day, a wanted criminal hiding out in the slums. When June’s older brother is murdered, Day is the prime suspect and June goes undercover to track him down.
Blaine and I both enjoyed the book. Occasionally we quibbled with some of the amazing leaps (deductive and otherwise) made by the characters. And Blaine, in particular, noted the characters’ overuse of the word “wound.” Although this book has not replaced The Hunger Games as our favorite dystopian novel, we’re eager to read the next two books in the series.
So why are we drawn to these books? Several years ago, in “The Dark Side of Young Adult Fiction,” the New York Times asked authors and other experts why post-apocalyptic fiction is so popular. I’m inclined to agree with Maggie Stiefvater, author of Shiver, that dystopian novels are more an escapist pleasure than an exploration of real fears about the future. Stiefvater suggests that in a world of complex, nuanced choices, “the absolute black and white choices in dark young adult novels are incredibly satisfying for readers.”
We’d love to hear your recommendations. What is your favorite dystopian young adult novel?