Gulfport author wins ALA award for New Orleans book

Nikki Marsh’s debut novel, “The Juju Girl,” is a coming-of-age story with a twist — or maybe a few twists! How many hurricanes, snobby aunts and revenge-seeking ghosts can one girl handle?
Amanda Hagood

Being a teenager is hard enough without hurricanes, mischievous aunts, and/or murderous ghosts. But all of that – along with fitting in and finding love – is part of a day’s work for 15-year-old Gabrielle, the protagonist of Nikki Marsh’s self-published debut young adult novel, ‘The Juju Girl’. (2021).

In this richly imagined story, set in turn-of-the-century New Orleans, Gabbie and her mother are forced to flee a storm that destroys their home and relocate to the high-society world of Crescent-colored hoops. City. Gabbie quickly learns that her family has supernatural powers – and plenty of dark secrets. When an in-law returns from the dead to avenge an ancient wrong, they must choose whether or not to save their family and fulfill their own magical destiny.

“The Juju Girl,” the first volume in a planned trilogy, won the American Library Association’s 2022 Black Caucus Self-Publishing e-Book Award. Marsh, who lives in Gulfport, felt deeply honored by the news.

“It was my first novel at 75,” she beams, “so winning an ALA award exceeded my expectations!”

The book faithfully captures the struggles of adolescence: Gabbie, within a few pages, feels anxious to fit in, bored by her narcissistic aunt, and unstable in her growing magical powers. In a subplot, Gabbie casts a spell on a wealthier and prettier love rival who gives the unfortunate target an indescribable halitosis in the middle of a posh ball. Gabbie is guilt-ridden, but also thrilled when the boy in question turns to her. It’s scary, it’s funny, it’s a bit wild – it’s adolescence.

The book’s setting is equally captivating, alternating between an opulent (if haunted) house, the city’s famous graveyards, and the shadowy realms in which Gabbie receives her schooling.

“I love the mix of cultures that you find in New Orleans,” says Marsh. “I also wanted to capture his legendary scary side.”

You might expect (and you will get) a fair complement of the snakes, spells, and pralines that fill so many New Orleans stories. But Marsh also unlocks some fascinating devices — portals to the spirit world hidden in the park, a ghostly doppelganger of the family’s longtime servant — that make me want to read the next volume. In it, Marsh explains, Nikki will face difficult social issues and continue her journey to master herself and her gift.

Whether or not you are or have a budding teen voodoo in your family, the book offers a message of self-discovery and affirmation that many young adults will appreciate.

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