Book Review: Alora Factor
Reviewed by Andrea Marks-Joseph
A magnificently inclusive, culturally rich story of three teenagers destined to save the universe
Alora Factor is a young adult fantasy novel told from the points of view of three teenage best friends. They’ve been inseparable since they were three years old, but only discover at thirteen that each of their families is involved in an alliance that harnesses their respective culture’s supernatural powers for the good of the universe.
We meet Alora Factor just before her thirteenth birthday. When the women in the Factor family turn thirteen, supernatural powers are bestowed upon her by African goddesses. “The Mothers,” as they’re called, began their mission generations ago by freeing slaves. They recruit Alora and her friends now because they urgently need help saving the universe from a new phenomenon of realm-jumping aliens who are causing untold potential damage to the balance in the multiverse.
Alora has ticker tape synesthesia (she sees people’s words appear as they speak them) which the author describes both vividly and with consideration for the experience from the young girl’s perspective growing up with the condition.
Andrea just started taking puberty blockers and is loving life as her body changes in a way that matches her gender. Her Afro-Cuban mom is both a Santera (a priestess in their religion) and a model example of lovingly parenting a transgender daughter.
Andrew is an artist who cooks excellent Korean food and may or may not be Alora’s soulmate. He’s the calming, protective heart of their triad.
There’s a strong sense of family (biological and found family) in this novel, which reads so authentically—especially in its depiction of the level of comfort that marginalized people living in community can find in each other’s homes and parents; calling them aunt and uncle, regularly confiding in them.
It cannot be overstated how genuinely the dialogue and warmth between characters is written. I felt transported back to the supportive, empowering glow that was my childhood surrounded by cousins and fellow kids of color, though Alora Factor is leveled up with contemporary talk of Doja Cat, Carol’s Daughter hair products, BTS songs, and Queer Eye.
Alora Factor is filled with fascinating mythology across global history and casually queer. It’s the exact kind of generous, well-researched representation I was hoping for.
The author centers joyously queer people—trans kids, genderfluid grandparents, extended families who embrace them—and kids who have complicated relationships with their parents but still feel deeply loved. (For example, Alora’s parents divorced a decade ago, and she lives with her devoted dad and grandparent. Alora’s mother hasn’t put in the effort to get to know her at all. It’s only mentioned briefly, but as a reader who has bipolar disorder, I also appreciated that her mom’s bipolar diagnosis is inconsequential in the fact that she’s not a good parent.)
The spirit of Blackness in Alora Factor is vibrant and complete with silk-lined beanies, prioritizing shopping Black-owned, and a bookstore called “For the Culture.” Alora Factor’s entire cast is beautifully diverse—racially, ethnically, and most notably in its inclusive queer nature. Alora’s beloved grandparent “Ma Dearest” uses they/them pronouns, and there’s zero hostility or negativity toward them. Everyone uses their correct pronouns and adores them. When Drea makes a trans girl friend, they connect over their specific experiences, and it feels transcendent! The author also includes relatable moments like monitoring the #transgenderwomenofcolor hashtag on Instagram, which for Drea is a place of both upliftment and of devastating news of violence against people like her.
There are quite a few content warnings necessary. I do believe the author handles them all with grace and compassion, but readers will encounter topics or mentions of death, suicide, postpartum depression, cancer, and sex trafficking.
This story also takes place during the COVID pandemic, as revealed through a handful of comments about hosting outdoor events, Alora appreciating her friends’ mask-wearing, and Andrew’s mom talking about the anti-Asian hate directed toward her because of it.
These charming young teenagers are aware of the microaggressions society directs against them, but they’re also at home in their own worlds. Partly because they enjoy some of the warmest mom-and-child conversations that I’ve ever read. The heart of Alora Factor often feels like a tribute to women raising their children (and their friends’ children) with fierce, welcoming love.
The author’s depiction of the rituals surrounding Ma Dearest’s “departure” enhances the spirituality and love built into the communities that raised these brilliant kids. The story does a fantastic job of showcasing the traditions from communities that many people of color are familiar with: Korean shamans, Yoruba deities, ancient African civilizations. Drew’s mom poignantly shares her struggles with realizing that to embrace the “American dream” actually means embracing whiteness, which left her uncertain with the amount of Korean appreciation to give her children. Drew’s narration discusses the complexity around how he’s been fetishized since the Korean Hallyu pop culture boom.
There are so many reasons to read this book: It’s filled with monumental multicultural representation brought to life with love; itexplores the multiverse theory in a unique, entertaining style that honors the role of social justice in modern history; it authentically reframes the narrative of many rich cultures, bringing to light the true beauty and brilliance of their ancestors.
This is a story equally as captivating for adult readers as it is suitable for readers at middle-grade level. The worldbuilding would delight fantasy readers of any age, but especially feels like a privilege for teenagers of color to see themselves and their communities in. The novel’s ending leaves room for a series, which would fit comfortably alongside bestsellers like Zachary Ying and the Dragon Emperor and the Rick Riordan books.
Genre: Young Adult / Fantasy
Print Length: 386 pages
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