“Black Girl Unlimited” is the ‘based on a true story’ life of the author herself, with a fantasy-magical realism overlay to everything, especially the traumatic parts. This book is devastating, but not in a bad way, but more in the way of a gifted girl, hating how she looks because she is a dark skinned black girl, believing she is an ugly beast because she isn’t lighter and doesn’t have ‘good hair’, kind of way. It’s heartbreaking to see how she views herself, not to mention watching her family’s struggle with racism, and Echo’s parents being drunks and addicted to cocaine. That’s not to say the book isn’t laced with hope, because it is! But the story is primarily focused on the young Echo and her struggle to survive in a world that has been stacked against her. There are some very heavy topics here alongside the systematic racism Echo faces, such as: drug abuse, sexual assault, and the rape of minors. All of these topics fit with the world Echo lives in, so they aren’t there just for shock value, but if those are sensitive topics for you, be forewarned. This book also happens to be my first foray into magical realism, so it’s very possible that I just don’t “get” certain things, but to me, the magic was more a metaphor then actually, well, magical.
Echo is a wizard—kind of. She can stop time and perform miracles, but the miracles are more of suggestions. She plants a seed in someone’s head in hopes of changing their trajectory and giving them a better future. Echo can also see a black veil around people, an actual darkness that will settle on people’s bodies and drag them down, snuffing out the light in their souls. The metaphor felt a bit obvious to me, that the black veil is an allegory for depression, a way to show trauma and resilience. Which became even more obvious as only girls seem to be wizards in this book, showcasing an empathy, strength, and an uplifted spirit that the men in Echo’s world seemed to lack. While I loved these metaphors and the creativity in showcasing them in such a way, I never really felt that Echo was actually a wizard, that she was actually doing anything magical. Maybe the metaphor was too on point, because all I saw was a young girl using this idea of being a “wizard” as a way to make sense of all the suffering she experiences, and not anything “real”, even though there are other wizards in the book that Echo does miracles with, or who save her in return.
I will say that I love how the author uses her time jumps. I know many people have an issue with it but I thought they were beautifully done with how, when Echo is being a “wizard”, she can almost jump back and forth between her scenario, and a similar one usually being experienced by her mother in the past. I didn’t have trouble following along when the author did this, and I thought it was a great way of showing how these cycles have a way of repeating themselves unless the characters actually face their trauma and learn forgiveness. Brown is a wonderful writer, and this book is perfect for readers who have suffered or who feel lost before they head off to college.
The author packs a lot into this book with Echo’s experiences and the messages about racism, listening to Black women, protecting Black children, and dealing with significant trauma on top of the struggles that kids face with finding their true friends and tribe. Echo’s strength in never giving up despite everything she has gone through is inspiring, and it’s such an uplifting story at the end. But I really just don’t know how I feel about the magical realism part. It felt a bit too disconnected from the story, and was better off as just a child’s way of shielding her mind from her personal pain, but because so many other women and girls in the book are also wizards, you can’t just pass it off as Echo’s coping mechanism, either. All in all, I enjoyed this book, I just wish I had firmer feelings about the magical realism aspects of it, which is why I’m giving this 3.5 stars. Still, I do think this is a great read for people who want to read more about racial issues, and while the language of the book feels better for a younger YA reader, because of the trigger warnings, maybe make sure they can handle reading about that sort of thing first before handing them this beauty?
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