ARC Review: ONYEKA AND THE ACADEMY OF THE SUN by Tọlá Okogwu (Middle Grade Monday)

I received an eARC from the publishers in exchange for an honest review. It has not affected my opinions.

Title in white on hair and gold next to image of Black girl
Genre: Fantasy
Age Range: MG
Star Rating: 4 stars
Series: yes - first book


Book cover for ONYEKA AND THE ACADEMY OF THE SUN: title in gold on Black girl's hair on gold

Onyeka has a lot of hair­—the kind that makes strangers stop in the street and her peers whisper behind her back. At least she has Cheyenne, her best friend, who couldn’t care less what other people think. Still, Onyeka has always felt uncomfortable with her vibrant curls…until the day Cheyenne almost drowns and Onyeka’s hair takes on a life of its own, inexplicably pulling Cheyenne from the water.

At home, Onyeka’s mother tells her the shocking truth: Onyeka’s psycho-kinetic powers make her a Solari, one of a secret group of people with super powers unique to Nigeria. Her mother quickly whisks her off to the Academy of the Sun, a school in Nigeria where Solari are trained. But Onyeka and her new friends at the academy soon have to put their powers to the test as they find themselves embroiled in a momentous battle between truth and lies… 

Blurb taken from Goodreads. Add to your shelves here.


ONYEKA AND THE ACADEMY OF THE SUN is an exciting story about a Nigerian girl with superpowered hair who finds herself in a world of superpowers, advanced technology, and mysterious enemies.

This is a story about the joy of hair like Onyeka’s, hair that some might call unruly (at their “politest”), and whacking all the rude comments with a telekinetic bantu knots. As a premise, it’s just so much fun and also incredible to see Black girl hair being centred. I also really liked the scene between Onyeka and Adanna (who have a rocky start to their relationship) bonding over hair care routines and showing the development of their friendship through the trust of helping with hair styling.

As much as it’s a story about learning to control new magic powers (at a school with a very intense end of year test!) and finding out what happened in the (near) past, it’s also a book about friendships – making new ones when unmoored from existing ones and trying to maintain old ones at a distance. We have her best friend (Cheynnei) in another country, and then new (and sometimes very prickly) friends-to-be-made at the Academy. I liked that mix between old and new friends, as often, when it’s about making new friends in a new setting, the old friends don’t appear again.

The world does have a Black Panther vibe, being a science-fantasy (I seem to be reading a lot of them of late!) centred around a technologically advanced African nation (Nigeria, in this case) For example, the unusual/magical abilities are explained as genetic quirks from exposure to a rare element and the near-future (2025) Nigeria setting is super high-tech. If it wasn’t for how the abilities manifested (which certainly feel more magic than science), I’d call it a sci-fi book.

This is the first book in a series (I think a duology?) and the sequel is certainly one to look out for next year.

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