Nikki Marsh’s début novel , “The Juju Girl”, is a coming-of-age story with a twist – or maybe a few twists! How many hurricanes, snobby aunts, and revenge-seeking ghosts can one girl handle?
Being a teenager is hard enough without hurricanes, spiteful aunts, and or murderous ghosts. But these – along with fitting in and finding love – are all in a day’s work for 15-year-old Gabrielle, protagonist of Nikki Marsh’s self-published debut young adult novel, “The Juju Girl” (2021).
In this richly imagined story, set in turn-of-the-century New Orleans, Gabbie and her mother are forced to flee a storm that destroys their home and resettle in the high society world of the Crescent City’s Creoles of color. Gabbie quickly learns that her family has supernatural powers – and plenty of dark secrets. When an in-law returns from the dead to revenge an old wrong, she must choose whether or not to save her family, and fulfill her own magical destiny.
“The Juju Girl,” the first volume of a planned trilogy, won the 2022 Self-Publishing EBook Award of the Black Caucus of the American Library Association. Marsh, who lives in Gulfport, felt deeply honored by the news.
“This was my debut novel at age 75,” she beams, “so winning an award from the ALA exceeded my expectations!”
The book faithfully captures the struggles of adolescence: Gabbie feels, within a few pages, anxious about fitting in, annoyed with her narcissistic aunt, and unsteady in her growing magical powers. In one subplot, Gabbie casts a spell on a richer, prettier love rival that gives the unfortunate target unspeakable halitosis in the middle of a fancy ball. Gabbie is wracked with guilt, but also elated when the boy in question turns his attentions to her. It’s angsty, it’s funny, it’s a bit savage – it’s teenagerdom.
Also engrossing is the book’s setting, which alternates between an opulent (if haunted) house, the city’s famous cemeteries, and the shadowy realms in which Gabbie receives her instruction.
“I love the blending of cultures found in New Orleans,” Marsh says. “I also wanted to capture its legendary spooky side.”
You might expect (and will get) a fair complement of the snakes, spells, and pralines that fill so many stories about New Orleans. But Marsh also opens up some fascinating devices – spirit-world portals hidden in the park, a ghostly doppelgänger of the family’s longtime servant – that make me excited to read the next volume. In it, Marsh explains, Nikki will face some challenging social issues and continue her journey to master herself and her gift.
Whether or not you are or have a budding teenage voduisant in your family, the book offers a message of self-discovery and affirmation that many young adults will appreciate.
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