Black Girl Unlimited: The Remarkable Story of a Teenage Wizard by Echo Brown is one of those books that should be on every “Best YA of All Time” reading list. I finished this astounding debut two days ago and I’m still reeling from Brown’s visceral, lyrical portrayal of the unexpected intersectionality between autobiography and magical realism in YA literature.
The way Echo Brown weaves themes like depression, drug abuse, poverty, racism, and sexism into the triumphs of miracles, wizardry, and ancestral guidance will suck you in, cast light into the dark places of your heart, and heal you from the inside out.
TW: sexual assault, suicidal ideation
Echo Brown is a wizard from the East Side, where apartments are small and parents suffer addictions to the white rocks. Yet there is magic . . . everywhere. New portals begin to open when Echo transfers to the rich school on the West Side, and an insightful teacher becomes a pivotal mentor. Each day, Echo travels between two worlds, leaving her brothers, her friends, and a piece of herself behind on the East Side. There are dangers to leaving behind the place that made you. Echo soon realizes there is pain flowing through everyone around her, and a black veil of depression threatens to undo everything she’s worked for.
Heavily autobiographical and infused with magical realism, Black Girl Unlimited fearlessly explores the intersections of poverty, sexual violence, depression, racism, and sexism—all through the arc of a transcendent coming-of-age.
A powerful memoir for fans of Piecing Me Together by Renee Watson and American Street by Ibi Zoboi.
“The fifth lesson of wizard training is everything you have buried inside will rise from the dead one day.”
This memoir-like story is centered around the life experiences of its author, Echo Brown. However, the fictional protagonist who carries her name and walks in her shoes learns to wield reality-bending, interdimensional magic to perform miracles for those who are shrouded in the darkness of sexual violence, grief, drug abuse, poverty, identity crises, and self-hatred.
While fictional Echo uses unique magic to heal and be healed by the women in her community, Brown’s portrayal of Echo’s astonishing wizardry parallels the very real power of connecting to and being guided by the intergenerational, feminine divine. In this book, when women band together, the real life miracles of “rising from darkness, regrowing light, or changing the trajectory of someone’s life” become potent enough to usher in warriors of change who will one day heal the world.
From beginning to end, Black Girl Unlimited is a harrowing, fearless, and layered exploration of underrepresented societal ills such as:
- How anti-racist activism too often ignores WOC who may be victims of their own communities.
- The way WOC are far more rooted in and benefited by ancestral power than they are the conditional promises of colonialist constructs like white saviors.
- The limits of miracles and the patient power of planting seeds.
- What the perpetuation of poverty and gentrification do to chronically disempower the marginalized, and, worse yet, exploit them.
- The cyclical destructive power of drug abuse and how it’s often tied to guilt, generational pain, and the seeming insurmountability of mental health crises.
- Sexual violence and all the ways we fail to address it.
Most of all, this book is a reminder of the beauty and light we sometimes bury, but always carry inside. It is an empowering, inspirational read highlighting the triumphs and universal need for more Black girl magic.
Now and always we need to amplify Black voices. Read their stories and be transformed.
“The twelfth lesson of wizard training is this: You must choose a singular purpose, one story that will drive your life forward. Without one, you will crumble into insanity or apathy; both are unbearable. Your purpose is the most important seed planted inside of you, because it is the tree from which all other branches grow. It’s the most important story you tell yourself about why you exist. It must be chosen carefully and thoughtfully.”
This book spoke directly to something I’m struggling with–the necessary tether between self worth and the narrow-minded constructs of euro-centric institutions. My self-love has always been contingent on the opinions of American men who look nothing like me, and teach me to reject the practices of my ancestors in order to exalt the triumphs of their own.
The older I get, the more I wonder if the esteem of white communities is ever meant to fall on someone like me.
As I was reading this book, however, Echo’s journey as a compassionate, resilient teenager helped me recognize how every time I’ve been my most powerful self (as a speaker, teacher, advocate, etc.), I was not speaking as a member of a white-centric institution (religious, academic, social, etc.). I was speaking as a WOC channeling the rage and grace of her ancestors, enriched and uplifted by her roots–not by self-serving academic gatekeepers or a euro-centric religion with a blue-eyed savior.
I am and always have been a branch of the eternal, feminine, intergenerational divine.
There’s no price you can put on such an life-changing insight. As I continue down this path of self discovery and the search for my true purpose, I hope to always remember the final lesson of Echo’s wizard training:
“You are unlimited. Be fearless in your pursuits.”
You can keep up with Echo Brown here:
What Should You Read Next?
Keep an eye out for the sequel to Black Girl Unlimited coming out next year: The Chosen One: A First-Generation Ivy League Odyssey.
In the meantime, check out these lyrical masterpieces by African American authors: Punching the Air by Ibi Zoboi and Yusef Salaam, The Cost of Knowing by Brittney Morris, and The Girl with the Louding Voice by Abi Dare.