Amari and the Night Brothers by B.B. Alston.
Balzer + Bray, 2021.
Read from library copy.
It’s been six months since middle schooler Amari’s adored older brother Quinton disappeared. Since then, the cops haven’t really looked, telling their mother that he probably just got involved in something bad. At the private school she attends on scholarship, Amari is constantly in trouble as she lashes out physically whenever other kids make fun of her for living in the projects or for having a missing brother. Only Amari still believes he’s still out there somewhere, and she’s determined to find him and bring him home.
Then, after a vivid dream of him, she’s delivered a briefcase that contains an invitation to a magical summer camp, where she can be trained to be an agent. Her brother was part of famous agent duo VanQuish with Maria Van Helsing, the oldest daughter of the director. But just as it feels like this might be a wonderful arrival at Hogwarts-type moment comes the let-down – Amari doesn’t come from a legacy family, and her particular magical specialty makes people assume she’s evil. Only her roommate and new best friend Ellie, who’s hoping that her were-dragon powers will show up soon, seems to be truly on her side. Meanwhile, attacks against the Agency by truly evil magicians are escalating, so that Amari has very little time to figure out what’s going on and find her missing brother before things fall apart completely.
Despite the darkness and threat, there’s a lot of humor and charm here, with a wide array of fantastical creatures, talking elevators with distinct personalities, and fun technology. Some of the trainers are described with Southern or Scottish accents, but white is still the default, with Amari (and previously her brother) being the only characters of color I noticed. And while Amari is yet another main character more talented than even the other magical kids around her, she has enough grit and gumption and such an uphill battle that I was rooting for her instead of rolling my eyes as I sometimes do at this trope. This is a fantastic option to give to kids looking for a more modern take on the magical school story.