It’s not everyday that you come across a venn diagram of interlocking interests so imagine my surprise when I learned that a middle grade story about a young Black girl with mutant natural hair powers attending a mutant school based in Nigeria released this month. Author Tọlá Okogwu masterminds the fun and twisty Onyeka and the Academy of the Sun with just this premise.
Onyeka is an anxious kid and with the way the world around her is set up, how could she not be? Her mother has hidden the reason for their exile to the UK from Nigeria for as long as she can remember, always reinforcing how she needs to lay low and use a focusing device to maintain as much control over her emotions as possible. Guilt-ridden when she inevitably loses control—for very good reasons—Onyeka is unprepared when her mother suddenly shares that they must now return to Nigeria to search for her missing father who can help her understand her powers. Once there, Onyeka learns that she is not alone. There are other children with abilities who have been trained to utilize them in service to the technologically advanced country. And who better to lead them than the very scientist behind the nation’s advancements and the reason they’ve gained powers in the first place? However, as Onyeka spends more time with the Solari she sees that loyalties, to each other and the country they serve, actually raise more questions than they do answers.
Onyeka and the Academy of the Sun is definitely worth picking up if any of the above appeals to you. It explores themes that will have you reflect on how you learned to regard institutions and trust as well as how growing pains can be as emotional as they are physical.