Tuesday, August 30, 2022

A Taste Of Magic (Park Row Magic Academy #1)

Elle, J. A Taste Of Magic (Park Row Magic Academy #1)
Published August 30th 2022 by Bloomsbury
ARC provided by the publisher

Kyana lives in the Park Row neighborhood of Rockford, and goes to Thomspson Middle School with her best friend, Nae. It's an area that struggles a bit, but is progressive; Key is able to take a class on African American History and Diaspora studies. Her mother works long hours on her feet, but has the support of her mother, Meemaw. When Kyana sees sparks flying from her fingers and starts to notice similar light around various businesses in the neighborhood, she wonders what is going on, but her mother tells her that it is her magical powers coming to the surface a little early. There are a lot of rules surrounding dealing with magic, and one is that Kyana must attend a magical school for six months to learn how to use her powers. If she doesn't, she will have to be "sanitized" and have all of her magic removed. Even though it means missing Nae's birthday party, Kyana reports to Ms. Moesha's Park Row Magic Academy in the back of Ms. Moesha's beauty salon. There are about 30 other students, including the popular Russ, who goes to Kyana's school. She makes friends with Ashley, and hopes to get chosen for the Charms specialty, since that is a path that leads to good job prospects. There are only two people chosen for that, and only one chosen for Potions. Most students end up in the general magic path. Kyana struggles with math in her regular school, and struggles with many different aspects of her magical training as well. It is intersting to learn about the magical community, which has come to the US from Winzhobble, and is having some difficulties that aren't apparent to the outside world. She also has to deal with lying to Nae, which puts a strain on her relationship. Her grandmother is starting to slip further and further into dementia, which increases the burden on Kyana's mother. When funding runs out for the Park Row Academy, the students are all in danger of having their magic stripped from them. They are given the opportunity to go to other magical schools, but the cost, as well as the matter of transportation, is not something that Kyana and her family can bear. Hoping to save her school, Kyana uses her skills as a baker to enter a competition, but things don't go all that smoothly. Will Kyana be able to reverse her spells that have gone wrong, learn to control her magic, and save her neighborhood school?
Strengths: Kyana is a character with whom many readers will identify: she wants to do well, but gets distracted when she really needs to be putting in the work. Nae was a good foil for her, reminding her to spend ten minutes reviewing her math every day! It was fun to see a local, neighborhood magical school instead of the far flung magical boarding academies we usually see, and contrasting it with a posh local school points out the inequities of the US educational system. There are many, many details about magic, magical outfits,  magical creatures, and magical food that will absolutely delight readers of series like Black and Clare's Magisterium. I appreciated the fact that there really wasn't a central, horrible magical villain that Kyana had to fight. That alone makes this fresher than many similar books! 
Weaknesses: I often wonder why so many books about magic focus on the problems with it. Not only is the school in danger of closing, by Kyana has a lot of trouble mastering the spells, and there are a lot of rules and regulations. Younger readers may enjoy the wealth of details more than I did; subplots like the one involving Russ and the breeding and selling of Groits gave this book a lot of different facets to keep straight.
What I really think: This is another great choice for readers who liked Mbalia's Amari and the Night Brothers, Okogwu's Onyeka and the Academy of the Sun, Dumas' Wildseed Witch and Clayton's The Marvellers

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