Root Magic

In Eden Royce's impressive and complex debut novel, it's 1963, and Jezebel Turner and her twin brother, Jay, have just buried their grandmother. As the children grieve, they must also contend with a major shift outside the home: integration has come to their South Carolina island.

Jezebel, who is skipping a grade and leaving Jay behind, is having trouble making friends. Adding to her loneliness is an extrasensory perception: Jezebel hears and sees things nobody else seems to notice. The Turners are known for being rootworkers (the Gullah Geechee term for magic readers may know as "hoodoo or conjure or a host of other names") and, while many members of the community benefit from root magic, few would ever admit to such a thing. Now that the twins are 11, Jezebel's uncle will begin to teach them how to work root--exactly at a time they might end up needing to use it. The twins are scared because a thoroughly non-supernatural evil--a white cop--is intent on meddling with and terrorizing their mother.

Royce, herself a member of the Gullah Geechee nation, has created a dark and evocative middle-grade novel in Root Magic. She elegantly melds everyday aspects of life--such as the Turners' code-switching and using Gullah (which is contextually translated)--with tween angst, folklore and horrors both rare and familiar. --Sarah Hannah Gómez, freelance critic and doctoral candidate, University of Arizona

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