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Amara Nicole Okolo

From the moment I began reading What Sunny Saw in the Flames I realized: this is not your typical African novel.

First off, the main protagonist named Sunny is a thirteen year old albino and American citizen living with her family in Aba. Go back in time to Africa’s literary past and you will notice that albinos have never really made a debut as protagonists in African books. Few chapters down, and you’ll find out that Sunny is not just an albino who feels ostracized from the world due to her complexion and confusing heritage, but she is also armed with super powers; questionable but exciting superpowers of seeing into the future.

She is a ‘Leopard Person.’

The writer, Nnedi Okorafor weaves a tale like no other. She begins with a prologue that gives you a taste of what you will be getting as you progress further into the story; a girl who takes solace in staring at flickering candle flames—and suddenly sees the end of the world in it. Bizarre, but it doesn’t stop you from flipping the pages. You visualize Sunny, a pale-skinned teenager, taunted and bullied by classmates, until she finds true friendship with three teenagers with similar supernatural gifts: Orlu, the introverted head of the clan with abilities to rebuild things, Chichi, the sassy, smart mouth with a wild curiosity, and Sasha, the African-American misfit with a tendency to disregard authority. Togethe ...

From the moment I began reading What Sunny Saw in the Flames I realized: this is not your typical African novel.

First off, the main protagonist named Sunny is a thirteen year old albino and American citizen living with her family in Aba. Go back in time to Africa’s literary past and you will notice that albinos have never really made a debut as protagonists in African books. Few chapters down, and you’ll find out that Sunny is not just an albino who feels ostracized from the world due to her complexion and confusing heritage, but she is also armed with super powers; questionable but exciting superpowers of seeing into the future.

She is a ‘Leopard Person.’

The writer, Nnedi Okorafor weaves a tale like no other. She begins with a prologue that gives you a taste of what you will be getting as you progress further into the story; a girl who takes solace in staring at flickering candle flames—and suddenly sees the end of the world in it. Bizarre, but it doesn’t stop you from flipping the pages. You visualize Sunny, a pale-skinned teenager, taunted and bullied by classmates, until she finds true friendship with three teenagers with similar supernatural gifts: Orlu, the introverted head of the clan with abilities to rebuild things, Chichi, the sassy, smart mouth with a wild curiosity, and Sasha, the African-American misfit with a tendency to disregard authority. Together they introduce Sunny to a new world of possibilities, a world where her idiosyncrasies are accepted and revered.

One distinctive feature of Nnedi’s writing is her ability to transport the reader to a different world and successfully make it believable. The description of the magical universe called Leopard Knocks, the enigmatic scholars with the weird names: Anatov and Sugar Cream; the annual juju festival that takes place at the foot of Zuma Rock in Abuja, the plausible names given to humans without supernatural gifts (The Lambs). All these combined gives you an imaginative feel of African magic and how it may operate. It opens your mind against prejudice, to a realm where magic is real, acceptable and a way of life. The language of the story is descriptive and engaging, and the characters are convincing and beautifully crafted.

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