Updated: Jul 9
Ever since discovering the Tristan Strong series by Kwame Mbalia, I’ve been entranced by the Orishas of West African folklore. This is a pantheon I grew up learning little about, and I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to dig deeper through the approach of Middle Grade literature. Antoine Bandele has crafted a series that embraces the personality and importance of the Orishas in an action-packed, modern context, entitled T.J. Young and the Orishas.
Will of the Mischief Maker
This is the prequel to the T.J. Young and the Orishas series, which was my introduction to the world created by Antoine Bandele. After reading the first two books in the Tristan Strong series, I’m so happy to have found more adventures that incorporate characters from West African folklore. This story focuses on Eshu, the trickster god, as he endeavors to secure a mortal body with which to explore using human sensations that the gods do not possess. It’s a captivating read, and I’m excited to get to know more of the series. Please see my full review here.
The Gatekeeper's Staff
The primary storyline of T.J. Young and the Orishas begins in this first novel, where we meet T.J. Young, a fourteen-year-old boy who comes from a line of powerful diviners. Disappointingly, it seems that he has inherited his non-magical father’s abilities as he lacks the skills necessary to be considered to attend magical school. One summer, however, he begins to show a glimmer of possibility, and he is invited to attend Camp Olosa, a place specifically designed to support students who require additional magical guidance. Deep in the Louisiana Bayou, T.J. begins to uncover who he really is while evil magic-wielders called Keepers threaten the integrity of his world. Please see my full review here.
This book is excellently written, utilizing riveting visual details and compelling dialogue. Words and phrases in Yoruba, Spanish, and Portuguese are incorporated throughout, giving the narrative a dynamic flair that sets it apart from many other stories for middle grade readers. I love the way the characters communicate with one another, sometimes speaking like familiar teenagers and other times transcending their age and conversing with more maturity.
I was drawn into this story from the first moments, feeling T.J.’s world so deeply that every time I returned to it, it was like settling in with a dear friend. I can almost find my way around Camp Olosa because of the level of intricate detail used in the descriptions of it. Rich friendships and complex emotional turmoil give this story a believable assortment of characters and situations.
This first book releases on June 19, and I am already ready for book 2 to be completed. If you love stories that you can dive into that incorporate folklore, language, and culture wrapped in the style of magic realism, this is the book for you. Though its target audience is middle grade, it is an enjoyable tale for older readers, as well.
T.J. Young should be excited about starting his magical education at the coveted Ifa Academy for Tomorrow’s Diviners, especially after the greatest summer of his life. Instead, his thoughts are consumed by the countdown that is threatening the lives of thousands of people because of a promise T.J. made to a powerful Orisha deity. As the school year begins, T.J. meets students and teachers who have different roles on his journey, and even as his magical skills increase, T.J. is never truly able to forget the challenge laid out before him. And as T.J. learns time and time again, when the Orisha gods are involved, nothing is ever as it first appears. This second in the T.J. Young and the Orishas series begins shortly after the conclusion of the first book and incorporates many of the same characters. Readers are reminded of the major events of the previous installment in order to keep the momentum of the story going, and these help orient readers without feeling onerous within this new narrative. T.J. is growing in many ways, and his personal challenges are intriguingly juxtaposed against the incredible expectations placed upon him in the greater world. Believable dialogue connects readers to T.J. and his companions, and the character development is well-balanced beside intense action scenes. As might be expected, T.J. makes many mistakes in his desire to please all those around him, and this makes his character charmingly approachable even within his extraordinary circumstances. Fans of Harry Potter and Percy Jackson will appreciate the threads of similarity found in this series that focuses on the Orisha gods and more of an Afro-centric pantheon. This is a well-written second installment of this series, and it is an excellent addition to library collections for young adult readers.
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