A powerful tale of a young woman succeeding despite everything working against her.
The book opens when Echo--the protagonist shares a name with the author--is six. Smoke rolls into her apartment's windows from a nearby fire that is spreading her way. Her younger brothers are stuck in cribs and her mom is passed out on the bathroom floor from crack cocaine. It's a good introduction to Echo's world. The book closes with her beginning a new life at Dartmouth University. The story is how she manages to go from one place to the other, with plenty of pain and heartache along the way.
Echo's story is suffused with a magic realism just vague enough that readers can choose to interpret as literal or metaphorical. On the first page she introduces herself as a wizard. Readers learn her wizardry allows her to see pain and darkness in a special way, with gifts to fight against it. She knows immediately her mom is a wizard and meets other women who share their gift during the course of her life. Each chapter is an episode of her life that imparts a particular lesson of wizard training.
This is certainly on some level the author's true story--how true in all the details is unclear--and that makes it all the more inspiring and empowering. She never minimizes the obstacles she faces; in fact part of her magic is that she is able to name, understand, and describe them, including the deeply personal and fully systemic layers. The workings of the book's element of magic can be disorienting for readers, but that is an accurate representation of Echo's life and makes the book all the more effective.
Not always a quick or easy read, but definitely worthwhile.
The seventh lesson of wizard training is to kill the imposter, the person you became to survive, and embrace the original, the person you were before all the pain. The person you are at the core. The original, not the imposter, holds the true blueprint for what you are destined to become in this world. You will find no answers in imposters, but you will find everything at the source, in the soul of the original. The imposter cannot perform the highest level of miracles and rise in true power. Only a wizard, authentic and lifted, can be of the greatest service to the people around them.
The ninth lesson of wizard training is learning to tell yourself a different story about who you think you are on the inside. People underestimate the power of telling a different inside story, but it's the only real power we have to create new lives for ourselves. Usually, all of us have some kind of bad story seeds that eventually sprout into a solid harvest. If you want a lush, bountiful harvest, you must replant yourself from the inside. You must uproot all those bad seeds planted by others and plant new ones that will grow different stories inside of you.
Dre and Rone are still struggling to take a different path while also trying to survive as best they can in this toxic environment. I begin to understand why it's so hard for new seeds to grow, no matter how epic the miracle that planted them. The seed alone is not enough. New conditions are needed to support the growth of the seed, which is why a new apartment in a new neighborhood was so important. I wonder if this is why white people have worked so hard to live separately from us? To keep all their money and resources to themselves in their nice houses and neighborhoods, so our seeds can't grow? I am enraged thinking about it, but I force myself to refocus on my homework. I press my pencil on the paper and continue.