Review Detail

Middle Grade Fiction 122
"Academy" fantasy set in Nigeria
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Onyeka and her mother left Nigeria because of problems with Onyeka's father that are never discussed. While Onyeka has a good life, and a good friend in Cheyenne, who is also Nigerian, she feels that she doesn't fit in. She feels especially uncomfortable about her hair, which is exuberantly curly and sometimes hard to manage. Her mother is overly protective, so when she and Cheyenne go swimming to celebrate Cheyenne's birthday, Onyeka is worried when things go badly wrong-- Cheyenne almost drowns, and it seems like Onyeka's HAIR saves them both. Her mother finally admits that Onyeka's missing father was a Solari, a person with exceptional powers, and that Onyeka seems to have inherited them. By ignoring this, the mother hoped that her daughter would not have to deal with everything this involves. Now that the powers have surfaced, the two head back to Nigeria to get the help of Dr. Dòyìnbó, the father's mentor and the founder of a school for Solari children. They are just going to visit while the mother searches for the father, but Onyeka is interested in meeting children like herself, even though it is somewhat awkward. She has to room with Adanna, who is quite mean to her, but starts a tentative friendship with Ẹni. The other students fill her in on some of the history of the Solari, who were the unintended result of some scientific experiments, and since their powers often manifest at a young age and can be quite strong, it's important for them to get the help of the school. They also tell her about Nigerian history, including the Council of Unity that stepped in to help heal divisions in Nigerian society and helped the country transition to solar power, which has been very useful and led to a technologically advanced society. Onyeka's power, called Ike, is to be able to move things with her hair; each child has slightly different powers, like mind bending or being a technopath. Using these powers can make her feel ill, and it comes to light that her father was doing research to try to improve the health of the Solari. Onyeka's mother goes missing, but her aunt, Dr. Naomi, arrives at the school to help. The Solari are trained so that they can help Nigeria, but when Onyeka finds out that many of them are dying, she's not sure who she can trust and sets out to find out not only the fate of her father, but the mysteries behind the treatment of the Solari. Not everything is wrapped up at the end of the book, so there is definitely room for a sequel. There is also apparently a Netflix film in development.
Good Points

The Academy of the Sun is one of the more vibrant school settings for children with magical powers, right up there with Black and Clare's Magisterium, Chima's The Havens, and Nimmo's Bloor's Academy. What I really liked was that the "magic" was more technologically oriented, and there were lots of scientific connections. The Nigerian setting made this fresh and added another layer of interest. Onyeka's parents are neatly kept out of the way, and her missing mother gives her impetuus to learn more about her skills in order to save her. The characters are nicely balanced between good and evil, helpful and not, and the children in particular are nuanced and require Onyeka to think critically about her relationships and not just take them on face value. Having her maintain contact with Cheyenne was a great emotional support which she needed badly, and having an unknown but supportive aunt added to the mix also made me slightly less anxious for her. There are plenty of details about academy life, and the uniforms are much more exciting than those in Amari and the Night Brothers. The real draw for young readers might be Onyeka's amazing hair, and it was good to see Adanna working with Onyeka to make it more comfortable to wear and increase its power! At 320 pages, this was a good length for middle grade fantasy, and I can see this being very popular, especially with the media tie in

This seemed to read more quickly than Amari and the Night Brothers, and had more pleasant students than Wildseed Witch, and was also easier to follow. When I have readers who aren't used to reading a lot of fantasy but would like to try some, this is very important. The blurb compares this to "Black Panther meets X-Men", but it felt more to me like L'Engle's Meg Murray attending a tech version of Yolen's Wizard's Hall. It's great to finally see the 2014 #WeNeedDiverseBooks movement bearing fruit in terms of fantasy books with cultural connections that range beyond the Anglo-Celtic ones of Tolkein and Lewis!
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