Supernatural creatures are hidden in plain sight in B.B. Alston's exhilarating middle-grade fantasy debut.
Thirteen-year-old Amari Peters is obsessed with discovering what happened to her older brother, Quinton. He had been working for a mysterious organization and then he simply disappeared. Amari knows it's possible he's dead, but she refuses to believe Quinton might be gone. Amari's faith is rewarded when she receives a magical briefcase that contains clues about the double life Quinton was leading. Turns out, he was a special agent working on a confidential assignment for the Bureau of Supernatural Affairs, "the link between the known world and the hidden." He has also nominated Amari to attend an elite summer camp that prepares children to become junior agents in the Bureau. Hoping to learn more about her brother's world, Amari attends the camp and is introduced to the paranormal.
The definitive hook of this narrative is Alston's exceptional skill for world building. Humans work alongside mystical beings in bureaucratic departments such as the Department of Supernatural Health, the Department of the Unexplained and the Department of Good Omens and Bad Fortunes. Amari has a practical, non-magical background that provides a realistic undercurrent to the supernatural elements. While the rapid plot pacing at times detracts from the inventive nuances, fans of the Harry Potter series will likely find much to enjoy in Alston's imaginary Bureau, which features significantly more authentic diversity than Rowling's Hogwarts. Amari stumbles into one capricious adventure after another en route to a stunning conclusion that also lays the track for a sequel to this breakout debut. --Rachel Werner, Hugo House and The Loft Literary Center faculty