by Eden Royce.
Walden Pond Press, 2021.
Read from library copy.
It’s 1963 in South Carolina, and Jezebel and Jay Turner are mourning the recent death of their grandmother, an admired practioner of Root, the Gullah Geechee traditional magic. Now that her grandmother is gone, Jez is being targeted by supernatural monsters for her untamed power. Their mother had always been skeptical and not wanted them to learn Root, but under the circumstances, she allows the kids’ uncle, Doc, to begin to teach them.
This would be plenty exciting on its own, but school integration is just beginning. The members of the Gullah Geechee community, island dwelling and mostly poor, are looked down on even by the mainland Black kids at school. So when Jez meets a new girl, Susie, she’s excited at the possibility of friendship, even if Susie isn’t willing to take Jez to her own house. There’s also a power-hungry sheriff who sees his position as an opportunity to make the lives of all the Black residents difficult, especially anyone who dares to stand up to him. And the Turner family is not one to submit to injustice easily…
The sticky air of the swamp, the warm connections of family, the danger and thrill of Root – its potential joys and the danger lurking under the surface of every body of water and behind any trees – as well as the atmosphere of entrenched oppression – are all brought vividly to life here. It was very interesting to compare the Root as shown in Root Magic with the Root of Legendborn – clearly related, though used differently. I also loved the little doll that Jez’s grandmother left her, which was animated enough to help her, much like Vasilisa’s doll in “Vasilisa the Beautiful”. But most of all, I enjoyed seeing Jezebel grow in power, confidence, and kindness.
This is the first book I have seen from a Gullah Geechee perspective, but other books that mix a strong sense of place with magic and African-American history and culture include Bayou Magic by Jewell Parker Rhodes, The Forgotten Girl by India Hill Brown, Just South of Home by Karen Strong, and of course Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky by Kwame Mbalia.