Book 1 cover zoomed in. (Image: Balzer & Bray/Harperteen.)

B.B. Alston’s Amari and the Night Brothers Reminds Me Why I Fell in Love With Reading

Supernatural investigations? Yes, please.
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B.B. Alston’s Amari and the Night Brothers follows young girl, Amari Peters, who is thrust into a world of magic and the supernatural while dealing with a loss of her scholarship and her missing role-model brother, Quinton. Respected by all for his kindness and talent both in the human world and the supernatural, Quinton also acts as Amari’s introduction to the magical world—one that has enrapt me like few before it.

Every reader has a different time in their life when they fall in love with the page. Some find that late in life, while others (me) take to the indoctrination by librarians, teachers, and sometimes parents. Like millions of others, my love came when I started reading Harry Potter. While I enjoyed Junie B. Jones and other treats from “library day,” it was picking up a book about a magical boy wizard in 4th grade that changed my life in many ways. Now, it represents both the best and worst (bigotry) things in the world for me.

Though many books since have captured my imagination and challenged me, none have reminded me of those nights obsessing of that magical world—until I started B.B. Alston’s middle grade fantasy novel Amari and the Night Brothers. I was taken back to that feeling of falling head over heels into a story and yearning for more.

Book 1 cover. (Image: Balzer & Bray/Harperteen.)

I’m not sure if it’s the target age group or just that Alston is a great writer (which is present regardless), but the pacing is one part of why I loved the book. It’s a mystery, with Quinton nominating Amari for a summer tryout at the Bureau of Supernatural Affairs before his disappearance, so of course it wasn’t all action and drama, but at no point was it a slog to get through. There wasn’t a moment of info-dumping that didn’t feel completely natural to the story.

Most times, I felt like I saw where the story was going (drawing on experience reading the Percy Jackson series and Harry Potter), I was wrong. That being said, there was stuff, as an adult reader, that I knew to watch for that the target audience wouldn’t catch. I even thought to myself after such moments about how a middle school Alyssa would react upon getting to the big plot points.

Speaking of recognizing literary patterns, since the story is rooted in a real and imaginary world, there are cool (already established in other stories) surprises in the story. For example, because the supernatural world holds monsters and magic, there is a major plotline involving the Van Helsings. A few main characters are descendants from the famous vampire hunter. The fun bits are scattered throughout the book, and I expect for more to follow.

While many books with a magical caste system tend to limit all bigotry to classism and allegories of racism (rather than addressing it head on), Amari’s story does everything. This is a better reflection of real life, where you are not just one identity, and that comes with good and bad experiences. Amari is a young Black girl who doesn’t come from money, and is a wizard in a supernatural world that fears wizards. All of this is explored and isn’t left to just be alluded to via sweeping metaphors.

Book 2 cover. (Image: Balzer & Bray/Harperteen.)

Amari and the Night Brothers is the first book of the Supernatural Investigation series. Book 2, Amari and the Great Game, is set to release April 5, 2022. According to this publisher, this is set to be a trilogy, however there is so much here I would love to see more or see shorter novellas for other characters or parts of the world.

Also, last year it was announced (this is eight months before the release) that Alston’s debut novel was bought by Universal Pictures after a bidding war. Marsai Martin (Black-ish and Little) and Don Cheadle are some of the producers, with Martin set to star. Between the pandemic and her just turning 17, she will be a bit on the older side. However, if shot soon, I think she can pull it off.

The book (and probably the movie rights) were pitched as “Artemis Fowl meets Men in Black.” I was more of a Hogwarts, Middle Earth, and Camp Half-Blood gal myself, but love Men in Black. The tryout hosted by the Bureau feels something between a Hogwarts and Camp-Half Blood, but more career-minded, like Men in Black.

While the app Libby got me back into reading more regularly a few years ago, it is Amari’s story that really reminded me of what it was like to be a kid reading a cool magical mystery. This is one of those books that when a kid picks it up (especially Black and brown kids), they will fall in love with reading just like I did, and I am so jealous of them.

(featured image: Balzer & Bray/Harperteen)

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Alyssa Shotwell
(she/her) Award-winning artist and writer with professional experience and education in graphic design, art history, and museum studies. She began her career in journalism in October 2017 when she joined her student newspaper as the Online Editor. This resident of the yeeHaw land spends most of her time drawing, reading and playing the same handful of video games—even as the playtime on Steam reaches the quadruple digits. Currently playing: Baldur's Gate 3 & Oxygen Not Included.