This was the last book my eldest read before heading off to school, and she loved it as much as I did!
Twelve-year-old Amari's older brother goes to work for a shadowy employer and disappears. When we meet Amari, she's still searching and fighting for her brother (fisticuffs at school) and gets expelled from her fancy, expensive private school.
Just in time for her 13th birthday, she receives an invitation to a junior camp / magical summer school at the Bureau of Supernatural Affairs, where her brother worked.
Eager to learn more about his life away from home and subsequent disappearance, and cut free from worrying about real school, she jumps at the chance. When it comes time to find out her magical ability, she's off the charts -- which earns her the distrust and downright fear of many of the other students and teachers.
Because historically, natural born magicians have done horrible things for the last 70 years. They've all been disciples of the Night Brothers, two mages who were finally defeated. One's locked up, and of course, he's trying to revive his magically vampirish (and rather dead) brother.
All of which Amari is aware of, tangentially, but her main concern is finding her brother. As she learns more about his life, his pretty partner, and the dangerous cases he investigated, she makes friends and enemies. Or, seeming friends and enemies.
Fellow student and privileged white kid Dylan introduces her to the idea that natural born mages aren't as horrible as they're made out to be. He's one. He's just been disguising it. Because all magicians are illusionists. Here the story kinda lost me. Why it never seriously occurs to Amari that Dylan might be disguising other things, as far as his magical ability is concerned (and when all magicians are illusionists), baffled me. She glosses over how she meets him and his magical ability, which should make her more suspicious and concerned. Instead, she accepts him at face-value. It felt like a big elephant in the room, crashing about, but for purposes of the plot, was kept invisible. Although, as my daughter pointed out, Amari is only 13, not an old suspicious teen, not quite yet. LOL! Although she seemed a pretty smart 13 to completely miss this.
At the summer camp, Amari has to choose which specialty she'll study. To learn more about her brother and find him, she chooses junior agent -- the most difficult one. If she's successful, she'll get closer to him and unravel the mystery of where and how he and his partner disappeared. If not, she goes home, game over, never to be allowed back into the Bureau and her brother will have to get out of whatever trouble he's in on his own.
I won't say any more or I'll ruin the ending. I will say, the story wraps up everything in the end, and I kinda liked that. There's no cliff hangar, no need to read a second book to find out "what happens," because you get it all in a wonderful, 400+ page package, guaranteed for hours of reading enjoyment.
When I read the next one, it'll be because I loved Amari as a character, not because the author left me hanging at the end, and I appreciated that.