‘Serwa Boateng’s Guide to Vampire Hunting’ by Roseanne A. Brown: I’ve never been more terrified of fireflies

This Serwa Boateng’s Guide to Vampire Hunting book review explores Roseanne A. Brown’s spin on Ghanaian mythology and the one girl whose world is turned upside down when her parents drop her off in a too-quaint town in Maryland while they go on a dangerous hunt.

This book has been on my radar since it was first announced that Roseanne A. Brown would be joining Rick Riordan Presents. I always make it a point to read the series that come out of this imprint, but this one in particular jumped out to me because it has been described as Mean Girls meets Buffy. If that doesn’t sound fantastic to you, I don’t know what universe you’re living in.

More than that, this book explores Ghanaian mythology, which I know little about. Sure, I’ve heard of Anansi (thanks, Wishbone!), but my knowledge of the subject ends there. Books from this imprint are meant to be gateways into new cultures for children and young adults (and not-so-young-adults), and I was more than ready to do a deep dive into Serwa’s world. It was refreshing to get a peak behind the curtain of a world I’m completely unfamiliar with. At no point did I know what sort of gods or creatures would show up next, and there’s something truly exciting about experiencing the unknown like that.

If you’ve watched Buffy, Serwa’s world will look familiar. She spends most of her days hunting vampires—and hanging out with her parents. That might sound lame to some people, but Serwa loves it. Her parents are two of the best Slayers in the world, and her dreams begin and end with becoming a full-fledged Slayer herself.

Unfortunately, her parents don’t think she’s ready to take the initiation test, despite her proficiency. She’s old enough now that she should be allowed to prove herself, but they’re holding back on her. And she can’t figure out why. It’s frustrating, and I found it easy to sympathize with Serwa. She’s done everything right, and yet she’s not been given a chance to prove her capability. What’s worse, Serwa’s parents aren’t exactly the type of people you pester until you get your way.

But soon they have a bigger problem on their plates. One of the Boatengs’ safehouses is attacked by an adze (looks like a firefly, turns into a vampire), soon followed by an obayifo (black magic witch) named Boahinmaa looking for something called the Midnight Drum. Serwa can tell there’s a whole lot more going on here than her parents are telling her, but it’s kind of hard to ask questions when you’re fighting for your life.

The three of them barely escape, and Serwa is unceremoniously dropped off in Rocky Gorge, Maryland to live with her aunt and cousin while her parents go after Boahinmaa without her. As an adult, I certainly sympathize with Serwa’s parents—it’s smart not to bring a child into battle, no matter how capable she is, but I also can’t help but feel for Serwa. Her life was never easy, but it made sense to her. And now everything is topsy-turvy.

But while Rocky Gorge may look like the safest, most non-magical place on the planet, Serwa soon finds out there’s an adze amongst them. Now it’s time to do what she does best, and prove that she can become a Slayer just like her parents. But, of course, not everything goes according to plan, and she makes a few frenemies along the way.

serwa boateng's guide to vampire hunting book review

One of my favorite characteristics of Serwa is that she’s flawed. She makes a lot of mistakes, but she’s aware of them. She knows how to apologize, even if it’s tough. She can put aside differences of opinion in order to see the bigger picture, and witnessing her become a leader in her own right is satisfying to see. Her first move isn’t always the right one, but she’s more than willing to adapt as she goes along. This is most apparent when it comes to the friends she makes at school.

And here is where Mean Girls comes into play. As the new kid at school, Serwa is almost immediately adopted by Ashley and Eunju, the popular girls. Ashley’s nice in a backhanded-compliment kind of way, and Serwa must soon decide what’s better—to betray her cousin Roxy, or to go against Ashley and put a target on her own back as well. The similarities with the Mean Girls pretty much end there, however, because then it turns into a Breakfast Club sort of situation when Serwa accidentally starts a food fight and sends her and four of her classmates to detention.

Eunju is Ashley’s best friend, rich and mostly quiet, though her loyalty lies with her BFF. Then there’s Roxy, Serwa’s cousin who’s eager and genuine, even when she’s dealing with the fact that her father was deported back to Ghana. Mateo is quiet and studious, and he always seems to have a kind word for everyone. Last, but certainly not least, there’s Gavin, who is definitely the jokester of the group. Each of these characters is unique and complex, and I loved getting to know them and unraveling the mystery of who they are throughout the book. Every single one contains multitudes, and Roseanne A. Brown has an uncanny ability to peel back those layers at the most opportune times.

While they may all seem different, however, they do have one thing in common—they’re all POC. Ashley, who’s white, was also in the middle of that food fight, but it was the five others who were sent to the principal’s office. It’s not hard to see why, and Brown doesn’t shy away from telling us exactly why either.

In that fashion, I want to take a moment out of my Serwa Boateng’s Guide to Vampire Hunting book review to talk about the fact that Brown doesn’t sweep anything under the rug when it comes to the racism Serwa faces while at school. The author addresses everything from microaggressions, like a teacher purposefully ignoring the proper way to pronounce Serwa’s name, to flat out discrimination against the students of color. There’s a lot of nuance here, which can be seen, for example, in the conversation about how white people will use their positive treatment of one minority to excuse their poor treatment of another. It truly is amazing how Brown seamlessly incorporates these moments into the plot of the story and doesn’t pull any punches along the way. It must be difficult to decide how much to rock the boat, as that could have very real consequences (i.e., criticism from parents and schools, book banning, etc.), but Brown doesn’t seem to flinch as she writes about these very real and lived experiences.

There is a bright spot for these kids, however, and that’s Mr. Riley, a Black teacher who knows all too well the sort of world they will continue to face both in school and out of it. He’s a beacon for Serwa in the darkest of times, and he hatches his own (not very subtle) plan to get these kids on the same page. Mr. Riley is exactly the kind of teacher I would’ve gravitated toward in school, and his presence on the page is so real that I found myself wishing I had someone like him in my life even now, decades after I’ve graduated.

Characters like Percy Jackson and Aru Shah had no idea gods and monsters were real or that they’d be so closely involved with them, but Serwa was born into this world and has known about it her entire life. Middle school provides the Great Unknown that she needs to explore, and watching her build and maintain interpersonal relationships is almost as interesting as seeing her introduce the world of the Slayer to her new friends.

That being said, the mythology in this book is rich and vibrant, equal parts terrifying and fascinating. The adze isn’t the only monster Serwa has to deal with, and it’s always interesting to see how another culture depicts certain entities and concepts that many religions share. Better yet, I love when other versions of well-known gods or places are mentioned (especially if it’s Greek), and you’ll get a one or two of those moments here as well. Oh, and if you’re a fan of the Tristan Strong series by Kwame Mbalia, look out for a couple of the references Brown throws into Serwa Boateng’s Guide to Vampire Hunting.

If you enjoyed this Serwa Boateng’s Guide to Vampire Hunting book review, I highly recommend you listen to Prophecy Radio episode #53, where we do a deep-dive into the book (with a designated spoiler section), as well as interview Roseanne A. Brown about the series, her writing process, and her fandom experiences. Listen below:

‘Serwa Boateng’s Guide to Vampire Hunting’ published on September 6, 2022

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