Ever wanted to read a fantasy novel that acknowledges struggles like your mom getting a payday loan to make sure you had what you needed as a kid while also granting entry into a fantastic world? B. B. Alston’s Amari and the Night Brothers delivers the above without verging into traumatic territory. What a refreshing turn!

We are introduced to Amari and the way she deals with the primary conflicts of this book — the possible loss of her older brother Quinton and being bullied by racist and classist peers — as she is facing the repercussions of standing up to such a bully. A scholarship student at a college prep private school, Amari has long been subject to ridicule and racism from wealthy classmates who see her family background and neighborhood as fodder for the humiliation that they throw at her. Even in the incident that we find Amari in at the start of the story, her biggest bully has instigated a fight by implying that Quinton’s possible death is another blow to lodge against Amari. When the bully’s mother gets involved and demands the revoking of Amari’s scholarship, she is effectively expelled from the school that no one in her family can afford. Hope is not all lost, however, as upon her return home later that day she receives notice of a special package that Quinton has sent to her. It’s her family’s first indication of Quinton being alive in a year. 

After taking up the mission Quinton has laid out for her within the package, Amari realizes that her accomplished older brother had several reasons for keeping his career hidden from her and her mother – he is an investigator for a secret supernatural world! His instructions to her give her access to the world through a prestigious summer program, which mollifies her mother’s concerns while causing Amari major anxiety.

Despite Amari’s initial misgivings, she decides to enter the program to learn more about her brother’s disappearance. Sadly, there’s no escaping bullies even here where legacy candidates who have grown up in this supernatural world weaponize their advantages against Amari’s efforts. While her brother is a star in the world of supernatural investigations — he’s on the cover of every magazine — not even his golden reputation can shield her from the hate lashed at her by program rivals and adults alike.

Where is this prestigious program, pray tell? Why at the Bureau of Supernatural Affairs, naturally. Think an effective Ministry of Magic meets the Men in Black. The Bureau of Supernatural Affairs has trained humans with special abilities to maintain secrecy between the supernatural and mundane world since the days of the first Van Helsing. But the school’s leaders are narrow-minded; the system only ensures that legacy families are considered for internship application and testing. This means that Quinton’s meteoric entry and rise are regarded as rare anomalies that much of the Bureau leadership and staff resent. Their resentment and -isms become minefields that Amari is forced to navigate around with minimal support all while trying to solve the mystery of her brother’s disappearance.

Oh yeah, and the mysterious Night Brothers play a great deal into Amari’s awakened abilities, supernatural encounters, and the discrimination against her. I will not divulge more here because spoilers, but suffice to say Amari has a lot on her plate in this first book of a series that’s already been optioned for a film trilogy before its debut. 

Amari and the Night Brothers is a middle grade book series that offers a convergence of magic, supernatural elements like werepeople and vampires, mythos like Atlantians, as well as aliens and physics without feeling clunky or overwrought. With a diverse cast of characters depicting many different life experiences, Alston delivers a tale that welcomes readers through entry points sure to ensnare readers from nearly any walk of life.