Jasmine Walls and Teo DuVall’s1 2023 Brooms is a historical fantasy graphic novel.
Magic in 1930s Mississippi is closely regulated, particularly the magic used by persons of colour. Government agents2 scour the state, looking for children with magical knacks. Children unlucky enough to be caught are sent off to academies and residential schools to learn proper, Latin-based, magic. Recalcitrant students who cling to unauthorized magical schools are punished. Some are stripped of their magic entirely.
Luella has had her magic sealed. She is determined to save her cousins Emma and Mattie from the same fate. Emma and Mattie’s parents are just as determined to save their kids. There is, of course, a catch, which boils down to money.
The sisters are part Choctaw and could get an exemption from the regulations… but that costs half a year’s pay. The two sisters could move to California, where the laws are very different, but that too would be very expensive. With the Great Depression in its early stages, money is even shorter than usual. How, then, to get the sisters to safety?
There’s a simple answer: broom racing. Magic can do many things and among them is broom flight. Just as people bet on horse races or dog races, they’ll bet on broom races. If Emma and Mattie can win enough races, they can make enough money to escape Mississippi.
However, broom races are dangerous. A flyer could fall off their broom or hit a tree. Some racers use magic to distract their rivals. A few resort to actual curses. A careless or unlucky racer could be injured or killed.
The broom races are also illegal. If a black racer is caught by one of the agent patrols (or turned in by a white racer vexed at losing to a person of colour), their magic is sealed away. Racing could condemn Emma and Mattie to the same dire fate they want to avoid.
Racing is dangerous, but the girls and their family see no alternative. All they have to do is win races, dodge trees and spells, and elude the agents. Easy, right?
The art in this graphic novel is skillfully done.
I wonder how many readers of a certain tendency will object to the diverse cast of characters as being too modern, while having no issue with magic3. I joke! Readers of a certain tendency would never get past the cover.
[Insert cover here]
Overall I liked this manga but… let’s get the negatives out of the way first4. The plot. The denouement seems more dramatic than plausible. Some agents back down when they find themselves out of their depth. Hmm. I don’t think bureaucracy works like that. State agents don’t like to admit to failure.
I suspect that the authors wanted to give readers a happy ending, even if the Jim Crow setting makes that unlikely. Agents back down; no one falls off a broom or runs into a tree. The biggest setback, Luella’s loss of her magic, happened before the manga even began.
If you’re looking for an artfully illustrated graphic novel suitable for a young adult reader that will not leave them horribly depressed, that might even convince them that progress is possible, Brooms may be what you are looking for.
1: The book cover says Teo DuVall. Some booksellers credit them as “Teo”, no DuVall. I am not sure which form of their name is correct so I am going with the version the publisher used.
2: The cost to the white folks of relentlessly policing and pestering persons of colour has to be substantial. The cost to society of preventing persons of colour from reaching their full potential is obvious (and also the point). But there’s more. Each agent is a man who isn’t doing productive work. There seem to be many agents. Maintaining so many unproductive adults would be a significant brake on any economy.
I’m reminded of ancient Sparta, where adult male citizens were required to serve as soldiers, which left all the actual work to be done by slaves and non-citizens. Sparta was not known for its thriving economy.
3: Perhaps the sisters cannot expect perfect safety outside Mississippi, but they will at least be in less danger.
4: As I so often do, I note that you don’t get a society that is in many ways indistinguishable from the actual historical Mississippi if magic has been around for a long time.