Eden Royce’s Root Magic (2021) brilliantly balances some of my favorite things: smart social commentary, beautiful writing, and horror. The horror in this middle grade novel is as much a result of the racism that haunts the text as it is the ghouls.
Set in rural South Carolina during the 1960s, Royce brings Gullah Geechee language and culture to life for readers. The spiritual practices present throughout are a source of personal, familial, and community empowerment as well as conflict.
Royce focalizes Jezebel, an eleven-year-old girl who is beginning to learn root work with her twin brother Jay. Her uncle, Doc, is their teacher as their mother looks on, weary, but supportive.
The book blurs the line between good and evil in meaningful ways as a dual storyline moves the plot forward. On one hand, Jezebel grows in her knowledge of root. On the other hand, a racist police officer ruthlessly targets the family. Royce weaves both storylines together wonderfully.
This is not an emotionally easy read. The protagonist’s family is inundated with violent racism, a reality that is intrinsic to the text. Even more, the story opens with loss, Jezebel’s beloved grandmother has recently passed away and her father disappeared several years ago. Their absence permeates the pages. However, I highly recommend this fantastic novel for mature readers young and old. The content is appropriate for audiences eight and up. Truly a pleasure to read!