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A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
Look to the Author's Note and the Glossary at the end to find out which Ghanaian tribes and ethnic groups are responsible for the adze (vampires), Adinkra (symbols tying to meaningful words and proverbs), and gods like Nyame and Asaase Yaa. There's an Adinkra Dictionary as well with more than 20 symbols and their meanings. Some discussion of uprisings of enslaved people in the 1800s and the Underground Railroad. Elemental magic is harnessed and used. A number of ancient Eastern philosophies, including the popular Chinese zodiac, refer to elements Earth, Air, Wind, and Water.
Friendship and bravery are both hard-won in this story. The importance of feeling a connection to history and our ancestors, especially for immigrants and Black and Brown people and anyone else whose history isn't widely taught in school. Having conversations about race with friends may be tough, but it brings you closer together.
Positive Role Models
Twelve-year-old Serwa was homeschooled by her parents and never had friends before she goes to school for the first time. She thinks she doesn't need to connection with others, that her fighter-protector Slayer identity is enough, but slowly finds what friendship offers her. She makes a lot of mistakes as she trains her new friends to protect themselves and the school, acting critical and brash, but apologizes and learns that there are other skills that count as much as fighting skills. While she's made so much progress, she's still so full of doubt about her identity that she makes an impulsive mistake that may cost her all her hard-won progress.
Every one of Serwa's friends is a person of color. Mateo is Latino, Eunju is South Korean American, Gavin is Black, and the girl Serwa calls a cousin is Black with a mother who grew up in the United States and a father from Ghana. Serwa is Ghanaian but has traveled all over as a Slayer. Serwa's mother is considered the best fighter while her father prefers gardening. Gavin has two foster dads. Mateo has a stutter and is also one of the smartest in school. Mr. Riley is a Black teacher who helps Serwa and friends through some troubles at school made worse by racism. He helps them channel their frustrations into art and the exploration of their unique identities and stories.
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Violence & Scariness
Yes, vampires suck blood. They don't kill anyone or turn them to vampires, but they drain enough blood to make someone pass out, possess someone, haunt the halls and woods near the middle school, attack with claws and teeth, and take a hostage they threaten to hurt. Weapons used against them are swords, bows, spears, and elemental magic like fire, fierce winds, and constricting vines. Serwa and friends also fight other scary creatures and a magic sword with those weapons. One bloody injury to an adult and bumps and bruises for the kids are all magically healed. A boy with scars and a fear of weapons explains that he was removed from his parents' abusive home and placed in foster care. A girl talks of the trauma of her father being deported. A food fight that ends in suspensions, but only for students of color in the class. A White teacher accuses Serwa of cheating and stealing and insists on calling her "Sarah." There's a flashback to an uprising of enslaved people heard from afar where two are known to die. Another flashback to a mother that berates and hits her child and the death of one woman in battle when the roof caves in.
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"Poop balls" and "bull" are as bad as it gets. Serwa hears her dad say words she's not allowed to say with no mention of what they are.
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Products & Purchases
Various Barbies are magically enhanced to be sparing partners. IHOP visited more than once. Mentions of many reality TV shows watched by the forest spirit. Plus quick mentions of snack foods, stores, and other restaurants like Chuck E. Cheese and Dunkin' Donuts. Serwa uses an iPad (really wants a phone) and mentions wanting her new middle school to be like High School Musical.
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Serwa sees what she thinks is a glass of wine in front of her aunt at the table.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Roseanne A. Brown's Serwa Boateng's Guide to Vampire Hunting is the first in a series featuring Ghanaian folklore and a whole cast of diverse characters. Serwa's parents immigrated to the United States from the African country of Ghana, but they fight vampires all over the world. All the friends she makes in her new middle school are kids of color. Not only do they face off against some nasty vampires and other creatures straight from Ghanaian folklore using weapons and powers (only incurring minor injuries that are magically healed), they also face racism at their mostly White middle school in a quiet Maryland town. The only deaths are in flashbacks from the use of magic and from a fall during a fight. A boy has scars on his abdomen from abusive parents and was placed in foster care with two dads. A girl talks of the trauma of having her father deported. Both Barbies and IHOP are prominently featured, and language stays very mild with "poop balls" and "bull" as bad as it gets. Serwa, who was always homeschooled, learns a lot about friendship in this story. A stand-out character is Mr. Riley, the Black art teacher, who helps Serwa and friends through some troubles at school made worse by racism. He helps them channel their frustrations into art and the exploration of their unique identities and stories.
Is It Any Good?
Here's a "middle school is hard" book with real teeth, the Ghanaian-vampire kind and the "important tough topics" kind. Just as Serwa doesn't shy away from an azde (vampire) that invades her new middle school, Serwa Boateng's Guide to Vampire Hunting doesn't shy away from racism and how Serwa and her fellow students of color experience it. Author Roseanne A. Brown is sometimes blunt in her depiction of racism, which may make some readers uncomfortable. This seems both intentional and essential in our world today. The Black art teacher, Mr. Riley, probably didn't have to tell the kids in detention that they were there because the were Black and Brown, but it's a good reminder to readers that bias is real. And the White teacher that accuses Serwa of both cheating and stealing and calls her "Sarah" -- she's a nightmare almost as bad as the blood-sucking kind.
Still, these harassed kids with plenty already on their plates want to save their school from vampires and they need to work together to do it. Problem is, they don't really like one another that much. Even bigger problem is, only Serwa knows how to wield a sword and draw protective symbols, and she's not a patient teacher. Many social slipups and grueling practices later, they have a semblance of a team, and some cool extra powers thanks to a bargain with Asaase Yaa, the earth goddess, and a dangerous quest. That's when the fantasy part of the tale really takes off and excites, and after the showdown at school the story feels complete. But hold on -- the big reveal of a family secret veers the ending so far of the usual happy-ending course the story feels jarringly incomplete again. Good thing there's a sequel coming.
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.