This has been a great summer to find out about new magical schools! This latest book set in a magical school comes out August 30, just in time for the start of mundane schools. It’s by author J. Elle, bestselling author of the YA book Wings of Ebony, making her middle grade debut. Welcome to the middle grade club, J. Elle!
A Taste of Magic
by J. Elle
Review copy kindly sent by the publisher.
It’s Kyana’s twelfth birthday, and even though her Momma can’t afford either to buy her a gift or take time off of her jobs to spend with her, Kyana is excited that she might finally learn the family secret. This manifests itself almost immediately in the form of tingling fingers as she’s faced with a cafeteria tray of green mush – and just as quickly, whatever it is starts coming between Kyana and her best friend Nae. First Kyana is distracted from the birthday gift Nae is giving her by the tingling. Then, as Kyana finds out that she a) has magic; b) must keep it a secret; and c) has to spend all day every Saturday in magic class, things get even more challenging. She’s never had to keep secrets from Nae before, and it’s even worse when the magic classes have her making excuses for missing planned times with Nae.
Meanwhile, Kyana has plenty to keep her busy at home, as she takes care of and learns from Memaw, who’s teaching her cooking and baking despite her developing dementia. And it turns out that her her neighborhood magic school, Park Row Magic Academy, is right in the back of her hair stylist Ms. Moesha’s beauty shop. Even though she comes from a magical family, as her mother and grandmother don’t use it, she feels very behind in a class full of kids who’ve known about magic since they were small. Not only is there the social scene to manage – making friends with quiet, homeschooled Ash, and trying to take on stuck-up Russ, who also goes to her regular school and has been openly mean to Nae. There’s also a very tight timeline to figure out her magical specialty – readers will probably figure out sooner that Kyana does that it’s related to her skills in the kitchen – and to pick a community service project that will showcase her magical abilities. But how will she do that, when she’s just learning about her own magic and the magical community itself?
Then, the Park Row Magic Academy itself is threatened with closing due to lack of funding – and that would mean that all the inner city kids who go there would either have to find transportation and tuition fees to go the schools in more upscale neighborhoods or give up their magic. Now Kyana has a real mission, one that will require her to learn everything she can about her own magic and the magical community at large, as well as draw on the strengths of her family and friends.
The Park Row Magic Academy and the neighborhood magic community is lovingly grounded in African-American culture, highlighting the importance of the beauty and barber shops and other local institutions. I really liked both that there are multiple magic academies in the city, and that adults with magical abilities are found throughout the community in many different jobs. There’s plenty of humor in the spells, the magic robes, which appear when a wig or snapback cap are put on instead of needing to be carried around, Kyana’s initial magical mishaps, the ferrets who come door to door to ferret out (sorry, I couldn’t help it) magical law-breaking, and the opinionated spirits magically attached to objects. This, combined with the ever-complicated middle school social scene and lots of delicious baking makes for a story that will draw readers in with magic, humor, and relatability.
I still have a couple more new magical school books that I’m hoping to review for you soon, but if this is a category you love, try also: