What drew me to this novel was its allusions to fantasy and to a cultural system that I am completely ignorant about. A chance to learn about something new combined with the fantasy tropes that I love? This was an opportunity I could not pass up on. Thank you to First to Read program and Penguin Random House for this ARC in exchange for an honest review.
12-year-old Sunny is having trouble adjusting. Having been born in New York, but moving to Nigeria has been quite a big change for her. It doesn’t help that she is albino and very sensitive to the sun. All sunny wants to do is play football and not get bullied. And for a while, it seems that her new friends, Orlu and Chichi, will help with that. But when they introduce her to the world of the Leopard People, Sunny discovers that there is more to life than she ever knew. With new friend Sasha, these 4 form the youngest Oha coven to ever exist. Their mission? To track down Black Hat Otokoto, a man who has been kidnapping and hurting children.
When I first began to read this book, I was unaware that this was for middle school children. It took me a little while to adjust at first, but once I realized who the target audience was, I had a better grasp of the story. I really liked the cultural elements that are infused into this story. The author does a great job of integrating them and explaining them in a graceful and sophisticated manner; nothing feels too simplified or “dumbed down”. It was really cool to read about all of these rituals and customs that are practiced and upheld, and it was just a great introduction to the culture. The story itself is pretty much like Harry Potter. You’ve got your group of friends and they are against an evil foe and they practice magic and learn about their abilities and have to pass tests to move up in levels. I felt that the story and writing could have used some polishing. Too many things were conveniently placed and there were many abrupt and awkward transitions in the book. The characters could also have been a bit stronger. Overall, I can see how this novel would appeal to middle schoolers and I would recommend it to any child between the ages of 8-13 who likes Harry Potter-like fantasy novels.