Genre: Middle Grade Fantasy
Year Release: 2021
Listened to the audiobook
Content warnings: bullying, light fantasy violence
Middle grade fiction is full of wonder and magic, and this book is the cream of the crop. It is a little bit Men in Black, a little bit Artemis Fowl, with plenty of Black girl magic and heart.
Amari joins the summer tryouts for the Bureau of Supernatural Affairs to get answers behind her brother, Quinton’s, disappearance. It has all the enchantment of being part of a secret magic society with references to classic monsters and common mythologies. This book tailored to some very specific interests, and I loved it.
The world-building is such a joy. In particular, I am drawn to inventive crossovers across many kinds of cryptids and mythologies. The Night Brothers are a reference to Moreau and Dracula, but there are also leprechauns and sasquatches that give out business cards. It works so organically. With the reader being a newcomer just like Amari, we get to experience it with a sense of wonder and recognition.
The story itself is also tender, and the way real life bleeds into her magical summer camp felt so natural. Some of the tensions, like ignorant bullies, don’t go away, and there was something refreshing in that portrayal. Because between in middle school is hard, especially socially. What I appreciated was the focus on friendship and working together to excel not only within the Bureau of Supernatural Affairs training but also to solve the mystery of what’s really going on. Alston lays out every bread crumb and detail in a way that’s satisfying for the reader when they piece the true goings-on together.
Ultimately, Amari is trying to do and be her best in a new wonderous world where secrets hide in every corner, but she’s not afraid to explore them.