Bayou Magic by Jewell Parker Rhodes, review by Melissa Fox
In Bayou Magic, Rhodes mixes old African tales and storytelling with a hint of magic as well as an environmental awareness to make something truly unique and joyful.
Not-quite-ten-year-old Maddy is the youngest of five sisters living in New Orleans. As the youngest, she's the tag-along sister, the one that just doesn't quite fit. The only time she truly feels at peace is when she's cooking with her mom. So, she starts her turn to spend with Grandmère in Bon Temps, in the Louisiana bayou, with a bit of trepidation. Her sisters all had a miserable time, but Maddy is more open to Grandmère and her stories. And, soon, Maddy finds that the world has opened up to her: in learning the Old Ways, Maddy has found friends and joy. And magic.
Rhodes' simple, lyrical style was really well suited to this story. She gave the book a very earthy feel, and wove through it old stories and the importance of family. I loved the mix of African and French, of Creole and magic and modern. And, she stressed the importance of caring for and connecting to the earth throughout. At first, I thought that this could pass for "realistic" fiction, that maybe the mermaids Maddy saw were just dreams and imagination, but no: this is speculative, but I found that I didn't mind .
A true gem of a story.