I was intrigued when I saw this book come up on NetGalley, so I picked it up, but then forgot to read it, and then I was sad. And I met the author and illustrator at the New York Comic Con, and they were really nice! And then the library I work at got a copy, so I was the first one to check it out! Anyway…
On first glance, this looks like Harry Potter, but if Harry Potter was the only black kid. (Not that there were that many POC’s to begin with, but that’s not the point here.) I thought this would be focusing on magic school with some racism. NOPE! Harry Potter already covered that with purebloods and muggleborns. Now we have racism with some magic school. And there is absolutely no subtlety here, folks!
Black student Tom Token, along with his pet crow Jim, is the lucky boy chosen to attend the elite St. Ivory Academy under their new Magical Minority Initiative. Tom is the first (and only) black student to attend, and he finds it a bit grating. There are silly rumors he has to debunk, like the one that says that black mages get their power from grape drink. He also has to adjust to prissy private school life. His guide and later friend, Lindsay Whitethorn, was once popular but apparently isn’t anymore after she broke up with the Headmaster’s son. (Bryce is very Draco Malfoy-ish, only he’s better at magic.) When Bryce picks a fight with Tom, they battle, but the fight is broken up by the Headmaster.
Guys. GUYS. The Headmaster is in full KKK gear. White robe, pointy hood. Any thoughts that this isn’t about racism have flown out the window. Luckily the Headmaster believes Tom over his son, to everyone’s surprise, but the Headmaster needs Tom, for reasons more than everyone thinks.
We also have flashbacks to Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass, and John Henry, all mages, fighting the KKK in 1852. We see those three later as well.
The illustrations are great, with a lot of action and color. I don’t quite get the school uniform rules, as some kids are always in uniform, and some aren’t. There are some direct jabs at Harry Potter, like the giant chess game. Tom is way more practical and worldly than Harry Potter. Lindsay’s hair and fashion go from geeky compliancy to kick-ass, which is kind of cool, although her hair length doesn’t quite make sense sometimes. Oh, well! Overall a great graphic novel that doesn’t pretend to be anything other than it is!
This fulfills the 2020 Bingo square of “UnCannon.” While still men, the author and illustrator are both young and black. I met them at Comic Con, they’re lovely people!