I love a book that crosses many genres, and Root Magic does just that. This magical realism historical fiction novel for middle grade readers lends heavily to the horror genre, too. Eden Royce, of Gullah descent, based this one on the experience of her relatives in 60’s South Carolina.

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The summary, from Amazon:

“A poignant, necessary entry into the children’s literary canon, Root Magic brings to life the history and culture of Gullah people while highlighting the timeless plight of Black Americans. Add in a fun, magical adventure and you get everything I want in a book!”—Justina Ireland, New York Times bestselling author of Dread Nation

Debut author Eden Royce arrives with a wondrous story of love, bravery, friendship, and family, filled to the brim with magic great and small.

It’s 1963, and things are changing for Jezebel Turner. Her beloved grandmother has just passed away. The local police deputy won’t stop harassing her family. With school integration arriving in South Carolina, Jez and her twin brother, Jay, are about to begin the school year with a bunch of new kids. But the biggest change comes when Jez and Jay turn eleven— and their uncle, Doc, tells them he’s going to train them in rootwork.

Jez and Jay have always been fascinated by the African American folk magic that has been the legacy of their family for generations—especially the curious potions and powders Doc and Gran would make for the people on their island. But Jez soon finds out that her family’s true power goes far beyond small charms and elixirs…and not a moment too soon. Because when evil both natural and supernatural comes to show itself in town, it’s going to take every bit of the magic she has inside her to see her through.

Buy Root Magic here.

This book is told from the point-of-view of Jez, an 11-year-old girl from a Gullah family living in South Carolina in the 1960’s. When Jez’s grandmother passes away, her uncle, Doc, begins to teach her and her twin brother rootwork, a spiritual, magical practice her family uses to protect one another – and to earn a little income. Jez and Jay are ecstatic to learn root, even though some children at school bully Jez for her family’s “old-fashioned” ways.

Jez and Jay aren’t only dealing with the passing of their grandmother. Their father disappeared some years ago too, and they miss him desperately. The family also has to face Deputy Collins, a racist police officer in their community who harasses and even beats rootworkers (and I would assume other Black folks).

The elements of horror in this one genuinely frightened me at times, making for an exciting read, especially in the second half. I found the first to be a little slow, particularly because the chapters are longer than I have come to expect from middle grade novels. The description of the setting was so rich that I felt like I was there at times.

I must give a content warning for police brutality, and also for the injury of animals during rootwork. (Though Jez is very against this and wants to figure out ways she can substitute these steps, saying, “I can’t stand to see people, or animals, or even monsters in pain.”)

Some other quotes I enjoyed in this one were:

“History . . . is the story of who we are. And sometimes, Negro history is told by people who don’t think we’re important. People who don’t think we make a different in the world . . . But we do matter. What we think matters. Our voices matter. And our stories matter too much to let someone else tell them. People need to know that.”

“Dark is not ugly. Get that out of your minds right now . . . You are both Black, and your mama taught you to hold your heads up and be proud.”

I did feel there were some times when the author could have used foreshadowing more to her advantage. There were some really good moments, and other times where things were told to the reader instead of shown. Overall, this book deals with some serious topics in a respectful way, all while painting a world rich in lore and a beautiful, genuine relationship between a brother and sister. This was a 4 star read for me.

Find out more about how I rate books here.

Root MagicRoot Magic by Eden Royce
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

While the first half of this one was slow for me, the second half kept me rooted to my Kindle. 😉 This magical realism historical fiction novel includes elements of horror and deals with some heavy topics in a thoughtful way. I love the relationship between Jez and Jay and that the author based this off of the experiences of loved ones.

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Book Club Questions

  1. How do you imagine Jez’s friendship with Suzie will continue after the end of this book?
  2. Will Jay and Jez always remain close? How are they similar? Different?
  3. Did any of the storylines in this book remind you of things happening in your community or that you see on the news today? How so?
  4. How have things changed since the 1960’s, when this book takes place? How have they stayed the same?
  5. Were you familiar with any of the elements of rootwork? Though the practice is not the same in the book as it is in reality, what themes might you remember from other stories or from your own spirituality or the spirituality of those you know?

Interested? Buy Root Magic.
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