I’m returning from my review-writing hiatus with a story that incorporates some of my favorite things: Black people, magic, witches, dragons, teleportation, and Brooklyn. Dragons in a Bag is a delightful middle-grade fantasy that I would have loved to receive as a child. In this story, author Zetta Elliott introduces us to magic functioning across dimensions through the lens of 9-year-old Brooklynite, Jaxon.
The book opens with the main character Jaxon, or Jax for short, being aware of and worrying about ‘adult things’ like facing eviction and his mother leaving him with an older relative that he doesn’t know very well. This situation reminds me very much of when I was younger and observed issues that my mother had whether she shared them directly with me or not. Similarly, when my sister and I had days off of school and my mother had to work, she would leave us with older relatives that we loathed to stay with because their house was no fun. I appreciate the author’s inclusion of childhood observation and frustration, which is often overlooked in ‘adult’ fiction, with many younger characters missing nuance in the situations surrounding them. The author’s characterization of Jax and the adults allowed me to empathize with each perspective while also seeing the issues in each characters’ choices.
Another nuance that the author developed well reminded me of the another BGC favorite, Daniel José Older, who is fantastic at describing Brooklyn and making characters speak like New Yorkers. From discussing that ways in which people interact with Prospect Park to reading the ebb and flow of New York traffic, Jax sounds authentically New York.
Fortunately for Jax and Ma, adventure is not far away from the park as the main teleportation devices, gatehouses, are in easy and conspicuous reach. These gatehouses are important to Jax’s physical and metaphysical journeys, as, through passage into distant lands and times, Jax begins to appreciate the oversight and assistance of elders in fixing his big mistake. I also appreciate how Jax is allowed to be emotionally sensitive, expressing upset when things go wrong through the story and receiving support from adults during those moments.
As one could imagine with a book titled Dragons in Bag, at some point someone lets them out. While the culprit isn’t Jax, he is responsible for what happens after getting friends involved. Throughout the book we see Jax reckoning with the idea of responsibility - how adults hold his care as a responsibility and how he is responsible for himself.
I would recommend this book to people across all age brackets as subtle ‘adult’ hints are laid throughout the story that point to and explore the relationships that Jaxon’s mother has with other adults in the book. There are additional mysteries about where the magic has gone over time and who knows of its existence. In all, this book does a fantastic job at laying the groundwork for an intriguing series with twists that are capable of captivating any reader.