The GateKeeper’s Staff By Antoine Bandele – An Equal Opportunity Reader Review
Before we even get into this: if you know a Black kid who loves Harry Potter and Percy Jackson, get them a copy of Antoine Bandele’s The Gatekeeper’s Staff. If you ever were a Black kid who loved Harry Potter and Percy Jackson, get yourself this book. If you want to have the most magical cosplay of 2021, or know about the next great fantasy fiction series before all the cool kids do, or just have a really good time — get this book.
Here’s the story: 14-year old blerd TJ Young lives in LA with his dad (a regular brotha from the hood) and his mom (a Nigerian immigrant who happens to be the most powerful Yoruba water sorceress of modern times). His little brother Tunde and older sister Dayo are both supernaturally talented but TJ seems to take after his dad as one of the ‘clouded’–he’s almost totally unmagical.
Then Dayo dies in a mysterious accident while working in Nigeria and things begin to change for TJ. Grief and shock make his abilities suddenly appear, but they’re so weak and unreliable that his parents send him on a summer trip to Camp Olosa, a place for troubled Yoruba spellcasters located deep in the Louisiana bayou. With the help of some new friends — especially country boy Josh and New York Afro-Latina Manuela — TJ finds himself on a magical mission that brings him face to face with the gods themselves.
This book owes a lot to Harry Potter and Percy Jackson. Antoine Bandele wears these influences proudly on his sleeve but adds freshness in the form of kid-friendly Yoruba spirituality references and tons of global Black culture moments. The storyline plays around with the now-familiar “magic high school” idea, but features Black people and cultures from all over the diaspora living their best #blackgirlmagic and #blackboyjoy. When asked about what he most hoped readers would take away from the book, Bandele said “That they can be magical, too. But a more long-winded version would be this; I wanted young Black readers to see Black people as more than just a few tropes, without struggle, just doing their thing and being awesome in their unique ways. Because Black in its “bubble” is not a monolith, it’s a kaleidoscope of diverse culture.”
There’s a lot to love in addition to the culture. The Orisha are excitingly portrayed as Yoruba spiritual beings with powerful abilities but very human flaws. TJ is a genuinely kind, caring kid with close connections to his family. The cafeteria at Camp Olosa serves excellent cornbread and gumbo. Overall the book is fun, culturally layered, and full of adventure. Release date is Juneteenth–grab a copy for the cookout.
(Kind thanks to Antoine Bandele for sending an advance copy of this. *crackhead scratch* So, uh, when can I get the next book? You got anymore of them plot twists?)