Rating: 5 stars
Genre: Middle Grade Fantasy
Representation: Black American, Creole, African (Ghanaian, Nigerian, and more), Arab, Irish, Caribbean, and so much more.
Content Warning: gaslighting
"Eleven-year-old Ella Durand is the first Conjuror to attend the Arcanum Training Institute, a magic school in the clouds where Marvellers from around the world practice their cultural arts, like brewing Indian spice elixirs and bartering with pesky Irish pixies.
Despite her excitement, Ella discovers that being the first isn’t easy—some Marvellers mistrust her magic, which they deem “bad and unnatural.” But eventually, she finds friends in elixirs teacher, Masterji Thakur, and fellow misfits Brigit, a girl who hates magic, and Jason, a boy with a fondness for magical creatures.
When a dangerous criminal known as the Ace of Anarchy escapes prison, supposedly with a Conjuror’s aid, tensions grow in the Marvellian world and Ella becomes the target of suspicion. Worse, Masterji Thakur mysteriously disappears while away on a research trip. With the help of her friends and her own growing powers, Ella must find a way to clear her family’s name and track down her mentor before it’s too late." - Macmillan Publishers
This is the ethnically inclusive magical school I've been dreaming of since I was little!! There are so many scenes throughout the book that draw influence from all over the world and made for such an exciting setting. One of my favorites was the Jollof rice scene between students from different African nations. I also love that there are so many different types of magic and that students get to learn about each region during the classes.
Ella is such a sweet girl and surrounded by supportive adults in New Orleans who are all concerned for her well-being as she heads to a school that has historically been closed to conjurers like them. I knew that this book would likely reference our history of desegregation in the United States but this was a much larger part of the story than I expected. Children reading this book may or may not have already learned about the Civil Rights movement and desegregation in schools but this story can make it much easier for them to understand and empathize with. I think that the nonfiction stories about that era can often seem too far removed for students to really understand the gravity of it all and what it must have felt like for the young people being tasked with integrating their local schools.
There's also a bit of discussion around the ways in which many Black folks from Africa, South America, and the Caribbean also have misconceptions of African Americans and tend to try to separate themselves from us. This is an issue because of the white supremacist propaganda that pits people of the African diaspora against one another.
This was a truly captivating book and I'm looking forward to the next one!!!