Will Do Magic For Small Change by Andrea Hairston (book review).

Part of the brief of the BBC is to inform, educate and entertain. That is something a good book should also do. With fiction, the primary consideration is the entertainment because if the reader is not enjoying the story, they may well abandon it before reaching the end. The best non-fiction is also enjoyable.

Some readers, though, want more than shallow entertainment and like to feel that they come away from a book satisfied. That may because the skilful author has taken the prose in unexpected directions or because they have discovered something they were not aware of before. Andrea Hairston has managed to fulfil all the criteria in ‘Will Do Magic For Small Change.

This novel is a delicate and skilful weaving of past and present, familiar and new, magic and reality. It follows two narratives. In 1984, Cinnamon Jones is not having a very good time. She is only twelve when the narrative begins. She is already taller and heavier than her mother, Opal. Not only is she at an age when hormones are beginning to kick in but her gay half-brother, Sekou, had died of an overdose. Her father, Raven Cooper, is in a coma after being shot in the head while protecting a couple of women. The only people she thinks understand her are her grandparents, Mz Redwood and Aidan Wildfire, who some readers will be familiar with from the novel ‘Redwood And Wildfire. This is not quite a sequel. Her main comfort is a book Sekou gave her called ‘The Chronicles.

The chapters relating Cinnamon’s issues are interspersed with chapters from ‘The Chronicles. The book itself seems to have magic properties as the text only appears when Cinnamon is ready for it. It is narrated by the Wanderer. The being is an interdimensional traveller collecting information and manifests before Kehinde, a warrior woman in Dahomey in 1890s West Africa. Kehinde had been captured from a different tribe and trained to fight for Dahomey’s king. Now the French had invaded. The war was lost and her twin brother dead. The Wanderer forms with the same appearance as Kehinde but takes her brother’s name, Taiwo. As they are twins, Kehinde means first born, Taiwo, second born. ‘The Chronicles’ relate their search for Somso, Taiwo-brother’s wife, and their journey to America.

Reading the evolving book in Pittsburgh, Cinnamon is trying to move forward. She has a desire to go on stage and, to that end, attends an audition. She doesn’t expect to be picked despite the talent she knows she has as they will be casting a dainty white girl, the complete opposite to Cinnamon. In the queue, she meets Klaus, a German-American, who gets cast in everything because relatively few boys go to the auditions and Marie, a Japanese-American, who has the same problem as Cinnamon. At the end of the audition, Opal arrives and collapses. That starts the friendship between the three youngsters which is cemented throughout the rest of the novel.

The depiction of Cinnamon and her friends is delightful as magic weaves around them and they discover what really happened the day Raven was shot and how ‘The Chronicles’ has relevance to them and, especially Cinnamon’s family. It is entertaining. Kehinde’s story and the journey to America is based on fact. Dahomey had been an influential force in Africa, supplying conquered people for the slave trade. ‘Will Do Magic For Small Change.is both informative, touching on much of the backgrounds of the people who eventually arrived in America, both as slaves and later free people and educates in the way the various groups both adults and children were regarded in the 1980s.

The book ticks a lot of other boxes modern readers often look for, such as gender, sexuality and prejudice treated in an authentic way. The magic and the acceptance the youngsters have for each other adds to the delight of reading this book. The only quibble I might have is to wonder if some of the idioms they use were current at the time the book is set.

Pauline Morgan

February 2023

(pub: TorDotCom, 2022. 464 page hardback. Price: $27.99 (US), $36.99 (CAN), £21.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-250-80873-8)

check out website: www.tor.com

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