Because I love books, I wanted to share a few books that have stuck with me over the years. These are books that, for whatever reason, I haven't been able to forget. I recognize that one of the books I discuss contains problematic topics. I will briefly discuss any problematic topics within this recommendation and also know that it goes much deeper than what I’ve written below.
Promise of Shadows
Promise of Shadows is a young adult fantasy novel written by Justina Ireland and published in 2014. The story follows Zephyr Mourning, a Harpy who very reluctantly gets thrown into her destiny. Ireland mixes Greek mythology with relevant, contemporary themes and does it with ease and grace. The novel is dark, contains well-written sly humor, delivers excellent action, and even a touch of romance! It satisfied all my YA needs.
Zephyr was a super relatable character for me at the time. This book left such a lasting impression on me--it was my first black girl book. It was the first book I read where the black girl was the hero. And Zephyr was black, visibly; I distinctly remember a scene where one character was greasing another character’s scalp. That was a wholly black experience. It brought me joy that I couldn’t contain. I felt seen for the first time.
I know that every black girl who reads has had this experience, and it’s one that I’ll never forget. This book was *chef’s kiss* and truly before its time.
The Legendborn Cycle
Legendborn is…listen, if y’all haven’t read Legendborn, please add it to your shelf. Today.
Legendborn is a young adult fantasy debut novel written by Tracey Deonn. It is a “modern-day twist on an Arthurian legend” but it is so much more than that. The story follows Bree Matthews, a 16-year-old, deep in the throes of grief after losing her mother, who stumbles upon an ancient Arthurian society during her early college program. Bree discovers a connection between this society and the death of her mother and dedicates herself not only to this society but also to finding out the truth about what happened to her mother. Along the way, she makes friends, enemies, and unlocks several truths that propel her story forward. On each page, Deonn takes us on a journey like no other.
Still, Legendborn is not only an exceptionally written novel, but it is a call to all black girls everywhere--a call to find themselves in the pages. Bree is so many of us. Her determination, her stubbornness, and her grief live inside so many of us. So does her love, her blackness, and her experience of existing in a space that was never meant for her.
There is so much more to Bree’s story. I just finished Bloodmarked, book II in the Legendborn Cycle, and I have so much to say about this series, but I’ll let y’all read it for yourselves.
Aristotle & Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe
Aristotle & Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe is a young adult coming-of-age novel. It was written by Benjamin Alire Saenz and published in 2012. The book follows Aristotle “Ari” Mendoza and his best friend Dante Quintana, describing their friendship and their struggles with identity, sexuality, and relationships. It is a timeless, beautifully written, heart-wrenching, and most-memorable read.
The characters in this book nearly jumped off the pages; they were so authentically flawed. Furthermore, Saenz’s style of writing was not only entertaining, but it was heart-wrenching at times. I was brought to tears on several occasions, just by how well Saenz seemed to understands humanity and the emotions and secrets that live inside all of us. I read this book during a dark time, and it renewed my faith in love and the inherent goodness in people. Ari and Dante’s story has and will stay with me for a long time.
TW: Transphobia. After a second readthrough (as an adult) I realized just how awful one of the story’s subplots is. It centers around Dante’s brother (who we never meet) who is imprisoned due to the fact that he murdered a transwoman (who is never referred to as such). I was young when I read this book, and I didn’t see the author’s transphobia for what it was. Though Ari and Dante’s story is beautiful, that doesn’t excuse the transphobic undertones.
Akata Witch (2011) is a fantasy novel written by Nnedi Okorafor and the first novel in the Nsibidi Scripts Series. It is followed by two sequels, Akata Warrior (2017) and Akata Woman (2022). The story follows Sunny Nwazue, an American-born Nigerian with albinism. Sunny has an affinity for soccer but due to her albinism, she can’t be in the sun. Nevertheless, Sunny discovers that she is a “free agent”, or a human with magical abilities, and soon finds herself swept up into a world of magic, danger, and adventure.
This book will stay with me for several reasons. I enjoyed Sunny’s journey and search for belonging within the magical and non-magical world. There were so many powerful moments within the book where she defied odds and overcame challenges, all in the name of learning, finding out more about her powers and her truth, and protecting her friends. Finally, Sunny’s relationships within her quartet of friends were one of my favorite things about the book; they were all such distinct characters and I thoroughly enjoyed their banter.
I’m halfway through Akata Warrior (which I’m loving) and Akata Woman is next on my list!
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