ARC Review: Oneyka and the Academy of the Sun by Tọlá Okogwu

Title: Onyeka and the Academy of the Sun

Author: Tọlá Okogwu

Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books

Genre: Middle Grade Fantasy

Content/Trigger Warnings: Bullying, emesis, blood

Rating: ★★★★

Book Links: Bookshop::TBD::B&N::Amazon::

Goodreads Synopsis

Black Panther meets X-Men in this action-packed and empowering middle grade adventure about a British Nigerian girl who learns that her Afro hair has psychokinetic powers—perfect for fans of Amari and the Night Brothers, The Marvellers, and Rick Riordan!

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 insecure about 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…

Thank you to the publisher, McElderry Books, for providing me with a free ARC in exchange for an honest review! All opinions contained within are my own.

I’ve always been an avid reader and fantasy has always been my go-to genre. I loved getting lost in a world of magic and adventure. But I never felt truly represented in the books I read as a young, Black girl because there were never heroes that looked like me. When I tell you that I wish this wonderful middle grade novel had been around when I was a kid, I mean that with my whole heart!

This story follows a young, British Nigerian girl named Onyeka. Onyeka has a complicated relationship with her hair. Namely, she hates it. She hates how big it is and how people make fun of her because of it. Then, one day at the pool, something amazing happens: her Afro hair saves her and her best friend from drowning! This event send Onyeka on a journey that takes her to Nigeria and the Academy of the Sun, a place filled with kids just like her. Kids with superpowers. Now, Onyeka must learn to control her newfound gift while searching for the truth of her past.

It’s been a minute since I’ve read a book in two days, but I absolutely could not put this one down! It was such a fast-paced ride that I found myself flying through the pages. The action starts in chapter one and doesn’t stop until you turn the last page! I loved how engaging this story was and how easy it was to get lost in the world the author created. I especially loved how immersed we become in Nigerian culture. It was wonderful to see that representation in a superhero middle grade novel. As I said, I wished there had been that kind of rep when I was a kid. Even though I’m not Nigerian, it still resonated with me in a way that felt so much deeper than the superhero books I read as a child.

Part of that, I think, is Onyeka’s complicated journey when it comes to her hair. I think all young, Black children (but especially young, Black girls) can relate to Onyeka’s relationship with her hair. It’s something so deeply specific to Black culture and I was thrilled to see it prominently featured in a book for younger readers. Her journey of self-acceptance and growth is played out in many ways, but I especially enjoyed seeing her grow to love her natural hair. I think it’s an important message for all Black girls out there!

Beyond just her incredible locks, Onyeka is such a wonderfully imagined and written character. Her struggles and her triumphs made me feel so attached to her that she came to life on the page. Okogwu has a way of writing characters that makes you deeply invested in their story and their journey. I will say that the character of one of the bullies felt a little one-dimensional to me, but it didn’t detract from my enjoyment.

Final thoughts: Overall, this was an incredibly vivid and fascinating tale of young Black superheroes that I hope gets into the hands of so many kids! It’s a story that immediately captured my imagination with it’s stunning world-building and fantastic characters. This fast paced read had me completely in its grip from beginning to end and I’m so glad it’s just the start to what promises to be a wonderful middle grade series. I can’t wait to see how Onyeka and her friends save the day!


3 thoughts on “ARC Review: Oneyka and the Academy of the Sun by Tọlá Okogwu

  1. Great review, Kerri! I had a similar reaction as you did with this one. It was super fun, and gosh it was kind of nice to see a Black character struggling with hair love (and then having it be her super power? How cool is that?!). Exactly what you said: I wish I had this kind of representation as a kid, too. I’m so excited that this generation will have books like this!

    Liked by 1 person

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