1/18/21

Amari and the Night Brothers, by B.B. Alston

Happy release day eve to Amari and the Night Brothers, by B.B. Alston (Jan 19, 2020)! It's the start of a middle grade fantasy series that might well become the childhood defining magical reading for current 9 -12 year olds (there's already a movie in development).

When we meet Amari, her scholarship at a snooty private school is about to be taken away, after she snapped when, not for the first time, a classmate was an elitist, racist piece of work. Amari and her mom live in subsidized housing, but Amari knows that doesn't define her. After all, her big brother Quinton was wildly successful in school, and could have gone to an Ivy League college. He didn't though; instead he got a mysterious job and then disappeared without a trace. Amari refuses to believe he won't come home again. And so she's grounded, depressed, and sad about letting her hardworking mother down, and angry about it all.

Then there's a mysterious delivery of a message from Quinton himself, of the best fantasy sort, that sends Amari off to the same "leadership camp" Quinton went to a few years back. And again it is the best fantasy sort of summer camp--a training ground for magical youth, who will as adults be tasked with keeping ordinary humans safe from magical entities, working for the Bureau of Supernatural Affairs. Quinton ended up being one of the most famous agent of them all, and Amari is sure that the Bureau knows a lot more than they are telling her about what happened to him. But in order to stay at the Bureau's school long enough to find the truth, she'll have to prove her magical worth.

Most of the other kids are legacies, raised with privilege by families associated with the Bureau, so Amari's at a disadvantage. And many of the kids are just as nastily elitist as her old antagonists. Fortunately, her room-mate, a technologically brilliant were-dragon girl (nice STEM focused girl rep!), is a lovely and loyal friend, and one of the most golden boys of them all extends his friendship and support.

Amari needs all the support she can get when it turns out that she is one of the rare people born with a forbidden level of magic. She knows she's not a threat, but many in power at the Bureau, and many of the kids, aren't convinced. Especially since there is a real threat, one that is growing dangerously close to toppling the Bureau and destroying the d├ętente between humans and magical beings....And since Quinton's disappearance is linked to this threat, Amari's search for answers puts her very deep in harms way....

There's obviously a familiar pattern here--kid with difficulties in the real world turns out to be magically special, goes to a magic school that is flamboyantly full of wonders, is faced with a series of trials that have to be passed, makes friends and enemies with the other kids and confronts evil in a way that leaves room for more books.   It's a type of story I like, and B. B. Alston does a great job making this version of it entertaining and amusing and fascinating, with lots of the small quirky details. And so just at this level it was a book I enjoyed very much.

Three things make this rise to the top of this particular sub-genre in my mind. The first is that Amari's primary motivation isn't to be best or most heroic (having grown up in the shadow of a brilliant older sibling, she's in the habit of selling herself short). Instead, she is focused on finding her brother, which gives the story a nice touch of emotional weight, while also adding mystery to the mix. 

The second is that the book includes contemporary social issues of racism and discrimination, and how these effect kids.  Not in a preachy way, but as a matter of fact. For instance, Amari is frustrated by how little effort has been made by law enforcement to find Quinton--because he's a young black man who sends home money but has no documented job, the authorities are comfortable assuming the worst about him and writing him off.

But of course, on a happier note, the main thing that sets this apart is black girl magic, plain and simple--a black girl being the best and most magical of them all for the first time (I'm pretty sure it's the first time) in this sort of middle grade fantasy. I can't wait for the next book!

disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher

2 comments:

  1. Glad you enjoyed this so much. I just won it and can't wait to read it.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I have been hearing about this book. It sounds like a fun new series for fantasy lovers. Thanks for your thoughts.

    ReplyDelete

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