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Names often play a pivotal role in stories—and like many aspects of fiction, their importance is reflected in the real world. The novels of award-winning young adult author Darcie Little Badger draw on the power of names: In Elatsoe, Little Badger’s 2020 debut, the titular character carries the name of a legendary ancestor. Little Badger’s new novel (and prequel to Elatsoe) employs the same convention: Sheine Lende, which translates to “sunflower,” is both the title and the Lipan name of Shane, the book’s protagonist.

Little Badger explains that, in her Lipan Apache tribe, “names were given to a person when they’d grown up enough that their personality and other aspects of them had developed, so it’s a coming of age thing. I got my name after I graduated high school.”

Sheine Lende tells the story of 17-year-old Shane, a Lipan Apache girl in 1970s Texas. Including the diacritical marks that indicate pronunciation, Shane’s Lipan name is spelled Sheiné lénde, but the marks were omitted for the official title. When considered in the context of the story, this difference illuminates much of what Little Badger explores in the novel about names, language and the erasure of native peoples.

“I wanted Shane to be named after a sunflower, and there were a couple of different ways that we could have spelled it. We eventually settled on Sheiné lénde,” she says. “Then I learned from my editor that apparently, the system that’s used to distribute books to booksellers, etc.—it’s really not set up to take diacritical marks. Unfortunately, that means that we had to take off the diacritical marks in the title. It was interesting, because part of the book is Shane learning how to say her name. So it was sad that we couldn’t have the faithful pronunciation indicated in the title itself. But throughout the book, you see the diacritical marks are there. That’s the way it should be,” Little Badger says, as she explains the correct pronunciation (phonetically, it’s close to SHAY-neh LEN-day).

“The Lipan language is currently in a revitalization process,” Little Badger explains. “Lots of people are working on trying to not just fill in holes in our language, but to teach the next generations how to speak it.”

“With Shane,” Little Badger continues, “she does feel embarrassed that she can’t really pronounce her own name. It’s almost like she can’t wrap her head around who she really is. And that makes her wonder, ‘Maybe that’s not me.’ It was important for me to highlight that.”

Shane lives with her mother, Lorenza, and her little brother, Marcos. The family has spent the last several years rebuilding their lives after a devastating flood took their home, community and worst of all, Shane’s father and paternal grandparents.

Now, living far from “la rancheria de los Lipanes,” the community in which they used to live that was composed mostly of Lipan households, Lorenza and Shane scrape by however they can. Lorenza, who is a gifted tracker, offers search and rescue services to local families. Along with their two well-trained hounds, Lorenza and Shane also have the help of a powerful secret weapon: the ghost of their dog Nellie, brought back through their ancestral gift.

To Shane, her mother is the truest rock Shane has had since the flood. But when Lorenza accidentally steps into a wild fairy ring and vanishes while looking for a pair of missing siblings, Shane’s entire world turns upside down. The ensuing search for her mother forces Shane onto her own turbulent path of reconnection to her people, her family and herself.

Sheine Lende, with its animal ghosts, fairies, vampires and other mythological figures, is firmly rooted in genre fiction. But each fantastical element is anchored by very real and historic truths. Even in a magical version of the world, natural disasters are as unavoidable as carnivorous river monsters, and Shane and Lorenza feel they must hide their sacred abilities as they navigate systems of oppression augmented by the dominance of white European magic systems.

“The cool thing about writing fantasy is that you can use a lot of different tools to present what you want to say about the world,” Little Badger says. “For example, I studied invasive plant species in the United States when I was in college, and they’re called ‘invasive’ because they cause ecological and/or economic damage to the environment that they’re growing in. So I was like, ‘Well, these fairy rings and fae people in the world of Elatsoe and Sheine Lende are extradimensional, so it’s almost like they’re being introduced to Earth. What if there are unintended consequences and they start to spread like an invasive plant?’”

The actions we take, often to our own benefit, and sometimes even with noble intentions, could potentially cause negative impacts that carry over into the future.

The role of the fairy rings and their environmental impact in the story contribute to a larger metaphor for collective responsibility and environmental stewardship. Though fairy rings are  magical, it’s easy to draw parallels to real world stories of environmental destruction on Indigenous land, such as the heavily protested Dakota Access Pipeline construction at Standing Rock, or the similarly problematic Keystone Pipeline.

Little Badger hints at the importance of collective responsibility early on in the novel, when Shane’s mother comes down with the flu while on a mission. Despite needing help, she stops Shane from using a flare gun because there’s a risk of it starting a fire in the area, which has recently experienced a drought: “She’s thinking of other people in a wider context, but also there’s this acknowledgement that the land we live on is going to be the land that grandchildren and great-grandchildren live on. There’s one Earth. And the actions we take, often to our own benefit, and sometimes even with noble intentions, could potentially cause negative impacts that carry over into the future.”

“It’s especially hard,” she continues, “because a lot of times, it’s not just individual decisions. It’s the decisions made by corporations or by entire countries. It can make someone feel small and overwhelmed when they’re like, ‘Okay, well, I recycle all the time and I do all these things. And it’s just not enough.’ But I do think that, collectively, if we can move to a place where we take future generations and people who aren’t like us into greater consideration—that’s what Lorenza was trying to teach Shane—it’s always a positive thing.”

Little Badger’s unique approach to genre fiction has been described as Indigenous futurism, an artistic movement considers the histories of Native peoples and uses the past to inform reimagined or recontextualized stories and futures. Throughout Sheine Lende, Little Badger uses fantastical devices to create a fun house mirror reflection of her tribe’s experiences.

The Lipan Apache are not a federally recognized tribe, and there is no Lipan reservation. Search engines offer contradictory information about the tribe. Links to the tribe’s official website and history are brought up next to an article from the Oklahoma Historical Society, which speaks of the tribe in past tense, and claims “little of their culture remains.”

“That’s . . . definitely not true,” Little Badger says. “That’s a choice. It ties into the erasure that Sheiné lénde shows.” Little Badger explains that before the Republic of Texas acquired statehood, “there was a ‘treaty of peace and perpetual friendship’ that Texas made with us. But then Texas became a state. Government officials did talk about potentially making a reservation for the Lipan Apache outside of the state of Texas, but unfortunately—well, they would consider us defiant, but we just couldn’t be rounded up. We couldn’t be captured. So they decided to do an elimination extermination campaign instead.”

By the late 1870s, Congress had made it illegal for any Indians to exist freely in Texas. Without a reservation, the Lipan Apache were among the Native peoples who suffered from this lack of recognition. “Until around 2021, we had no tribal land, so essentially we’d always be one disaster or unpaid bill away from losing our homes and having to start over somewhere else in Texas. I’ve heard people call us ‘disenfranchised natives,’” Little Badger says, referring to the fact that Native groups without tribal recognition from the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs lack rights given by the federal government.

“With Sheine Lende, so much of it is about that struggle to survive on land that has been, according to the United States government, taken away from you, on which you don’t even exist,” Little Badger adds. Towards the end of the novel, Shane enters the land of the dead, “almost like she is drawn to the thought that she belongs with the dead.” While a physical concept in Sheine Lende, the underworld also “represents Shane’s mental health and the way she sees herself and her people.” This fever dream sees Shane wandering through enchanted deserts that transition into prehistoric tundras. She encounters strange and terrifying beauty, confronting extinction and memory.

“It’s her struggling against that urge to give into despair and remain there with the dead, which eventually she overcomes by thinking of her family out there waiting for her—and a hope for the future, that those who remain need her to be with them and she needs to be with the living for herself,” Little Badger says. “It’s my meditation on what it means to be a disenfranchised native who is so erased by the law, by the military, by history, by books, by everyone outside of your community.”

Ultimately, “Shane finds strength by looking within herself and her community.” It’s this final sentiment of turning toward living, hope and the people who need you and nourish you, that most fully embodies “futurism,” and it’s where Shane embodies her namesake. At the end of Sheine Lende, her family’s grief has not been magically healed, and the ripple effects of colonialism are far from being calmed. But on the book’s final page, there is a note: “This is not the end.” In that message, there is a fervent reminder of hope, if only one remembers to turn, like a sunflower, toward the light.

 

The author discusses how the strange and beautiful world of Sheine Lende, the prequel to Elatsoe, reflect the experiences of her Lipan Apache tribe.
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For many years, Icarus Gallagher has slipped into the dangerous Mr. Black’s mansion on opportune nights to steal priceless artworks and replace them with perfect forgeries created by Icarus’ father, Angus. Their strange mission is one of revenge: Mr. Black hurt Angus’ family, and so Angus has spent almost two decades trying to hurt Mr. Black.

As a consequence of his father’s obsession, Icarus lives a half-life devoid of any real connection. At 17, he only has a year before he can leave and never see Angus again. Until then, he’ll keep his head down. 

Except one night, Icarus is caught by Helios, Mr. Black’s teenage son. While he originally appears to be a threat that could expose Icarus, the two soon form a tentative friendship—and then something more intense. For Icarus, a boy made of want, it’s almost more than he can bear. But his connection with the broken, golden Helios might prove to be the key to freedom for both of them. 

K. Ancrum’s extraordinary fifth novel Icarus is an elegant, multifaceted gem about art, power and fear. Ancrum performs a confident high-wire act in balancing the weighty manifestations of these themes alongside those of connection, desire and contradiction. 

Icarus—book and boy—is the embodiment of raw yearning, and all of Ancrum’s characters wear their hearts on the tips of their tongues. Occasionally the book’s dialogue can feel unrealistic or even overwrought, showing an honesty and openness not necessarily common among 17-year-old boys. But there is an intimate truth in the intensity of feeling behind their words, and this is one of Ancrum’s greatest skills as a writer. 

“Some of us lead lives that would require suspension of belief from others,” Ancrum writes in the novel’s dedication. Perhaps she references the unreality of a teenaged art thief who tends ferns and scales buildings, but maybe she’s simply talking about the unreality of everyday injuries and ecstasies: the cold rage of abuse; the emptiness of grief; the rapturous beauty and agony of being touched. 

Ancrum’s prose is also thrillingly decadent in certain moments, channeling the masterpieces of art whose power she telegraphs through every page. Often sudden bluntness, either of sentence length or metaphor, gives an edge to the gilded phrasing. In Ancrum’s novel, Icarus’ wings striving for the heat of the sun becomes both a beautiful representation of queer love and a sharp, artful subversion of the original Greek mythos.

In her extraordinary fifth novel, Icarus, K. Ancrum performs a confident high-wire act, balancing the weighty manifestations of connection, desire and contradiction.

In her creative and contemplative debut How Do I Draw These Memories?: An Illustrated Memoir, Jonell Joshua reflects on the people, places and events that helped her become the person—and artist—she is today. 

An interesting pastiche of illustrative styles give this mixed-media memoir a scrapbook-like feel, and Joshua’s artistic range is on full display in painterly full-page pieces, expertly drawn black-and-white comics and colorful, vibrant illustrations. Through the inclusion of photographs of prominent figures in her life, Joshua also illuminates the ways in which others’ perspectives can become woven into our own. 

The author’s childhood years were peripatetic: After Joshua’s father’s death when she was very young, she moved with her mother and brothers to her grandparents’ home in Savannah, Georgia. She and her brothers also lived with their other grandparents in New Jersey while her mother sought treatment for bipolar disorder. The author notes, “I envied the schoolmates who’d grown up together. . . . I kept tabs on how many [schools] I’d gone to. It was like a game I played in my head. Five elementary schools, four middle schools, one high school.” 

While How Do I Draw These Memories? begins with the author’s earliest memories and ends approximately in the present, the memoir moves back and forth chronologically in between, resulting in a reading experience that’s more akin to an assemblage. As Joshua moves from state to state, school to school, her memoir also switches between narrators and storytelling styles—straightforward prose, Q&A format, illustrated narratives, etc.

Additional insight is offered via sections like the informative and empathetic “Bipolar Disorder—From My Perspective” and a detailed chronicle of her path from post-high school uncertainty to where she is today: an illustrator whose clients include the New York Times, CRWN Magazine, and NPR; and someone whose memories remind her that “The moments of joy I felt growing up . . . felt immeasurable. The love I was raised with is the love I carry with me.”

An interesting pastiche of illustrative styles give How Do I Draw These Memories? a scrapbook-like feel. Jonell Joshua’s artistic range is on full display in painterly full-page pieces, expertly drawn black-and-white comics and colorful, vibrant illustrations.
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Since the advent of The Folk of the Air series in 2018, Holly Black has held legions of YA fantasy readers in thrall to the world of Faerie: its acorn cups and everapples, redcaps and ragwort steeds, mad revels and delicate, deadly riddles. Her latest novel, The Prisoner’s Throne, is another delicious descent into the intricacies of Faerie family and politics. 

The Prisoner’s Throne is the sequel to The Stolen Heir and the final installment in the Novels of Elfhame duology, which follow the faerie Prince Oak, heir to the throne of the kingdom of Elfhame, and the Queen of the Court of Teeth, Suren, now known as Wren. 

Whereas The Stolen Heir centered primarily on Wren, this time, we delve into the storm of calculations and insecurities that swirl beneath Oak’s curling hair and curving horns. Oak finds himself Wren’s prisoner after his last misstep shattered the tentative trust they had begun to build. His imprisonment beckons war between Elfhame, which is ruled by his sister Jude, and Wren’s Court of Teeth. Oak’s loyalties are torn: On one hand, he understands his family’s anger; on the other hand, his feelings for Wren and his knowledge of her character have him convinced she is not his enemy. 

Readers will identify with Oak’s desperation for peace as well as his struggles with being a people pleaser. He is undeniably a teenage boy, complete with an overprotective mother and a tad too much angst over whether he is truly known or loved. Wren is less present in this book, but her wintry demeanor is as endearing as it was in The Stolen Heir, and her relationship with Oak retains its innocent, wistful heartbeat. The greatest charm of The Prisoner’s Throne is in the secrets that Oak must unravel, from hidden motives to conspiracies to “straightforward” questions with complicated answers. If you’ve known Oak since his Folk of the Air days, he is no longer a little prince—this is as much a coming-of-age story as it is a saga of magic and mischief.

For fans of Oak and Suren, The Prisoner’s Throne is a fraught and fitting conclusion to their tangled, wild adventures. Fans of Jude and Cardan from the first series: You will not be disappointed.

Holly Black captivated legions—and we mean legions—of fans with the Folk of the Air series, then she whisked them away once more to Elfhame with the Stolen Heir duology. The Prisoner’s Throne picks up where The Stolen Heir left off, switching to Prince Oak’s perspective as he struggles through the explosive consequences of his journey north with Wren. Audience favorites Jude and Cardan might just make an appearance.
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Since the underground caverns are the only place in her town of East Independence, Ohio, where she doesn’t experience hallucinations, 16-year-old Neely takes a job there as a tour guide. There, she meets Mila, a leggy, confident college kid who leads the cavern tour groups. As Neely seeks peace away from her hereditary mental illness and her brother’s haunting suicide, she is drawn to Mila’s kindness, and the two grow closer, eventually buddying up at the staff party—which, between the weed and the alcohol, Neely doesn’t reliably remember anything about. When she and the other tour guides find Mila murdered in the caverns, Neely’s mind breaks. If Neely can figure out who killed Mila, maybe she can get her hallucinations back under control. Assuming, of course, that Neely isn’t the killer.

Award-winning author Mindy McGinnis’ Under This Red Rock is a gritty, brutal young adult novel that blurs the line between broken imagination and reality.

Readers should be prepared for serious themes, including blunt descriptions of suicide, physical and sexual assault, and animal abuse. Those who prefer their psychological thrillers with a raw edge will find McGinnis’s slow-burn plot and fast-paced writing more than satisfactory. Explorations of drug use, the darker side of Internet culture, and how society abandons poorer folks to struggle alone ground a story that could otherwise feel fantastical firmly in reality. Neely’s position as an unreliable narrator will keep readers guessing, leading to several stomach-dropping twists and an ultimately satisfying conclusion.

Disturbing yet compelling, Under This Red Rock is a must-read for readers of unflinching teen thrillers. Fans of Courtney Summers and Tiffany D. Jackson should pick this one up.

Award-winning author Mindy McGinnis' Under This Red Rock is a gritty, brutal young adult novel that blurs the line between broken imagination and reality.
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Every year, Muslim students from different Los Angeles high schools celebrate Independence Day together at Monarch Beach. But this year, while everyone’s waiting for the fireworks, an offshore explosion detonates, destroying the beach, injuring many and even causing death. Police detain six Muslim teenagers at the scene, calling it terrorism. Samia, Nasreen, Qays, Muzhda, Abdullahi and Zamzam are caught in a court case that seems stacked against them, and proving their innocence might mean giving up personal secrets from that night. Can they work together to find the truth? Who can they really trust?

Six Truths and a Lie is a powerful examination of modern justice. The story unfolds from six different points of view, in a dizzying experience that sets up heart-racing tension from the very beginning. As the large cast of characters reveal bits and pieces of the truth, the reader—like the teenagers—must figure out how everything fits together.

The suspects are determined to defend their innocence, at the risk of revealing their true whereabouts and intentions on the night in question. Their dreams and dignity are threatened by accusations of terrorism, and the authorities seem determined to take everything from them.

Ultimately, each teenager just wants to walk free. But Six Truths and a Lie forces them, and readers, to reconsider: What does freedom really mean? And what are you willing to sacrifice, for even just a piece of it? The book holds a mirror up to our modern world and asks us to acknowledge how racism and prejudice still plague our legal system and our everyday interactions—and how our preconceived notions of people can mislead us.

Harrowing and heartbreaking, Six Truths and Lie sheds light on the uncomfortable truth that justice is not blind, while demonstrating the inspiring bravery of those who fight for true justice, no matter what it costs.

Harrowing and heartbreaking, Six Truths and a Lie sheds light on the uncomfortable truth that justice is not blind, while demonstrating the inspiring bravery of those who fight for true justice.
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To grab a young reader’s attention, a book often needs to combine the familiar and the outrageous. Patrick Flores-Scott deftly employs this equation. In No Going Back, he introduces readers to Antonio Echeverria Sullivan on the morning he’s released on parole. After 18 months at Zephyr Woods Detention Center, Antonio has gotten sober and is ready to make amends to those he has harmed, particularly his mom and his best friend, Maya. The conditions of his parole are strict but manageable—even the part about having zero contact with his dad. 

No Going Back opens with a “Dear Reader” letter from Antonio, where he explains what’s about to unfold: the “whole honest-to-God true tale of the seventy-two hours after my release . . . including the improbable and gripping encounter with the same stolen money that got me stuck in Zephyr in the first place.” Teen readers will be compelled by how Antonio navigates returning to a home and a life that looks completely different. The book alternates between short narrative chapters (each with a day and timestamp at its heading) and free verse poems from Antonio’s perspective that describe his relatively happy childhood as well as his father’s alcoholism and abuse. The fast pace of the book will keep readers engaged as they bounce between the present and the past, learning more about Antonio. Eventually, the story accelerates into the thrilling, leaving readers wondering how Antonio might escape from a dangerous situation. Antonio’s voice is inconsistent at times, but the energy of his story will sweep interested readers along, and they will sympathize with his desire to become the person he knows he can be throughout this novel focused on friendship, loyalty and redemption.

The energy of No Going Back will sweep readers along, and they will sympathize with Antonio’s desire to become the person he knows he can be throughout this novel focused on friendship, loyalty and redemption.
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A successful fantasy plunges readers into a world that feels removed from the ordinary, while still maintaining a familiarity or unexpected resonance. National Book Award finalist Traci Chee’s Kindling does exactly that as it takes readers into an unknown world ravaged by a war in which “kindlings”—teenage warriors trained since childhood to wield a dangerous magic—were deployed as an ultimate weapon, but always at a cost. Even if they survived the fighting, using their magic resulted in an early death by “burning out.”

The book opens after the war has ended, and kindling magic is taboo. This dramatic postwar shift means former kindlings can move on with their lives, but having known nothing but fighting and death, many are unable to find purpose and drift through the world as outsiders. However, formal peace doesn’t mean an absence of violence, and a threat on her village leads Tana to seek help from Amity, a powerful and influential kindling formerly known as a Deathbringer. Amity agrees and works to assemble a team of kindlings, all women or nonbinary, all carrying the trauma of their past battles and the uncertainty of their futures.

Chapters alternate between the eight main characters’ individual perspectives. Chee makes an unconventional choice in constructing the whole novel in the secondperson, referring to each character as “you.” This structure takes some getting used to, as does distinguishing the different characters who, while distinct, have much in common as well. Inspired by ensemble films such as Seven Samurai and The Magnificent Seven, Kindling thoroughly reimagines the multi-voice story and offers readers something surprising.

Inspired by ensemble films such as Seven Samurai and The Magnificent Seven, Kindling thoroughly reimagines the multi-voice story and offers readers something surprising.
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British writer Faridah Abiké-Iyimidé knows architecture is a significant part of what makes boarding school novels so compelling. Readers long to read about unsettling towers, rumor-filled halls and hidden entrances leading to dangerous secrets—and they’ll find all these at Alfred Nobel Academy, the elite and foreboding boarding school that forms the setting of Abiké-Iyimidé’s sophomore young adult novel, Where Sleeping Girls Lie.

Abiké-Iyimidé has long held a fascination with old buildings. “Schools in the U.K. are very strange, because even if your school is literally one of the worst in the country, it might just happen to be also in a castle,” she says, on a Zoom call from her home in London. “My school is now shut down because of how bad it was. People were failing all the time, the teachers weren’t great.”

Despite this, her school’s stunning campus, which was built several centuries ago, provided inspiration for Where Sleeping Girls Lie. In the basement was the school shop, where students could buy uniforms and supplies. “I would always notice random doors there,” Abiké-Iyimidé recalls. One day, she found out that the doors led to tunnels from one of the World Wars, which the nuns (she attended a Catholic school, but is Muslim) would walk through to get to the town center. Abiké-Iyimidé wondered how anyone could be sure that there wasn’t someone hiding in the tunnels all the time.

Later, Abiké-Iyimidé attended the University of Aberdeen in Scotland, founded in 1495. There, she was able to walk through picturesque halls “built at a time I can’t even conceive of in my head” as well as observe superstitions and traditions of the kind that lend a distinct, fascinating atmosphere to the dark academia subgenre. “I love when a specific institution has its own code like, ‘On Fridays, we do this.’ When I got to university, I was told . . . if you walk on the grass, you will fail your final year. I remember seeing someone just jump on the grass because they didn’t believe it. I always wanted to check in with them to see what happened in the end.”

Tradition is key at Alfred Nobel Academy, a boarding school where students wear stiff uniforms that resemble “funeral attire” and get sorted into eight houses. “I’ve always grown up wanting to go to [boarding school]. Never could convince my mom to go and enroll me or anything,” Abiké-Iyimidé says. “With Where Sleeping Girls Lie, it’s almost like my fantasy of experiencing boarding school, while bad things are happening in the background. I want readers to feel like they want to attend this school. Obviously, not during this timeline. Because it’s a terrible timeline.”

Indeed, misfortune strikes almost as soon as protagonist Sade Hussein steps foot on Alfred Nobel’s campus, and not just because the school matron is snippy over the fact that the death of Sade’s father led her to show up four weeks late. Sade is befriended quickly by her new roommate and house sister, Elizabeth Wang, who is kind but seems distracted. Then Elizabeth goes missing, a mystery no one seems invested in solving—except Sade and Elizabeth’s best friend, pink-haired Baz. In her struggle to unearth the intricate circumstances behind Elizabeth’s disappearance, Sade finds herself surrounded by a captivating cast that includes three “popular for being pretty” girls nicknamed the “Unholy Trinity,” as well the boys of Hawking House, where infamous parties take place. Every one of these characters, whether friendly or hostile, carries their own secrets.

Part of the appeal of a school setting, according to Abiké-Iyimidé, is that “it’s a rare time in your life where your friends and community are always there. The idea of not having to go home—you can literally live with your friends—just sounds like the dream.”

Growing up, Abiké-Iyimidé was a fan of shows featuring boarding schools like “Zoey 101” and “House of Anubis,” which “make you feel like you can get away with a lot of things because adults feel less present in your life.” Such circumstances are ripe for “found families built from being forced to get to know people intimately and live with them.”

“The stories I’ve enjoyed growing up are the ones where I fall in love with the characters,”  Abiké-Iyimidé says. Even when writing thrillers, she takes care “to stand still sometimes and . . . look at these people as human beings—their interactions, the things they’re interested in and the things that make them who they are.”

Abiké-Iyimidé’s debut novel, Ace of Spades, was an international bestseller, and won the 2022 NAACP Image Award Winner for Outstanding Literary Work in the Youth/Teens category—all of which is made even more remarkable by the fact that Abiké-Iyimidé wrote the young adult thriller when she was 19. “Now I’m 25. . . . I’ve got a fully developed prefrontal cortex and everything.” Although she’s proud of her debut, “I’m definitely not the same person. I always kind of joke that the person that wrote Ace of Spades is kind of dead.”

With my second book, I really wanted to do a lot more character work and take the time to make sure that the story felt like a place that was lived in.”

“Every author struggles with the fear of messing up your sophomore novel,” Abiké-Iyimidé says. When writing Where Sleeping Girls Lie, “I wanted to play with mixed media and interesting formats.” Where Sleeping Girls Lie pieces together standard narration, flashbacks, interview transcripts, diary snippets and more. She created tension through “playing with structure” and “having the reader be . . . only allowed in through these small windows of time.”

“Making the reader not trust you or the narrator is very exciting,” she says. But Abiké-Iyimidé also had concerns beyond successfully crafting a thrilling mystery:  “With my second book, I really wanted to do a lot more character work and take the time to make sure that the story felt like a place that was lived in.”

Like Where Sleeping Girls Lie, Ace of Spades, which took place at the similarly prestigious Niveus Private Academy, explores institutional discrimination. “When I was writing Ace of Spades, I had a lot less hope,” she says. “Even though I see the world as a lot more bleak now, I think that hope is almost what I need in order to feel happy and to feel like I can continue talking about these things. So I think Where Sleeping Girls Lie is a lot more hopeful than Ace of Spades, just because my perspective has had to shift in order to survive.”

“Since I was young, I loved reading about political issues, particularly those that I would relate to as a Black Muslim woman. . . . I’ve always been interested in discussions around feminism.” When Abiké-Iyimidé started attending university, the #MeToo story broke in Hollywood. “There was a [similar] thing happening in the UK across different universities as well, where we were seeing a lot of kind of gentleman’s group chats being unearthed,” she says.

Abiké-Iyimidé was particularly interested in the passive participants: those who only silently participated or solely commented. Having attended an all-girls secondary school, university was the first time where Abiké-Iyimidé made a lot of male friends. She was taken aback by some of the things they would tell her. “They were like, ‘Oh, my friend did this awful thing, but you know, I look down on him for that.’ But you know, you’re still getting drinks with him every night and hanging out and essentially cosigning his behavior by being in community with him.”

In Where Sleeping Girls Lie, Abiké-Iyimidé wanted to highlight how such individuals are still indirectly linked to the wrongs their peers commit, despite seeming “nice” or not actively participating. “Even though there is the more monstrous kind of man represented in the story, I want the quieter, [but still] complicit people to also be spotlighted.”

“I really love writing unlikable Black girls, and I hope to get to write them forever.”

This principle of applying a fresh perspective carries over to her female characters as well. She finds the mean girl archetype to be “deceptively simple.” “There’s more going on under the surface with the mean girl,” Abiké-Iyimidé says. Specifically, “I really love writing Black girls as mean because I think oftentimes we are depicted as mean anyway. Or people portray us or receive us as being mean.”

“I really love writing unlikable Black girls, and I hope to get to write them forever,” she says. “Rather than trying to prove to an imaginary white reader that we’re not awful people, I lean into it even more. I’m like, ‘Yeah, we’re awful, actually. And you know, you should love us anyway.’” Having previously explored this in Ace of Spades with main character Chiamaka, who struggles with fitting in at her predominantly white institution, Abiké-Iyimidé continues in Where Sleeping Girls Lie to dissect “the idea of Black women having to strive to be the very best in order to get like, you know, even a small amount of recognition for their talents—and how that might develop into someone being very hard. And very not nice, or not appearing nice.” In Abiké-Iyimidé’s novels, Black “mean girls”—as well as characters of other races—often grapple with complex aspects of marginalization, sexuality and victimhood.

Another, more lighthearted common thread throughout Abiké-Iyimidé’s books is the reliable presence of a little animal character. Ace of Spades featured a cat named Bullshit who became a fan favorite, and Abiké-Iyimidé “thinks that I will always have those kinds of characters in my stories,” because she enjoys the “moments of levity” they provide.

But truthfully? “I am actually so afraid of animals in real life,” Abiké-Iyimidé says. It’s another way in which she’s “living out fantasies through my stories. . . .  I’m just so, so scared of them.”

Worry not, readers: As proof of Abiké-Iyimidé’s authorial powers, a very cute guinea pig named Muffin appears throughout Where Sleeping Girls Lie.

Photo of Faridah Abiké-Iyimidé by Joy Olugboyega.

Following the massive success of her debut novel, Ace of Spades, the author plunges readers into the halls of an ominous boarding school in her sophomore offering.
STARRED REVIEW

Our top 10 books for March 2024

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Book jacket image for 49 Days by Agnes Lee

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Natasha Siegel’s beautifully written The Phoenix Bride pushes readers to reconsider what happily ever after looks like.

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Thunder Song is an essay collection full of sensitive meditations and powerful observations from Coast Salish author Sasha LaPointe.

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Novelist, essayist, humorist and critic Sloane Crosley shows a remarkable willingness to face the dark questions that follow a suicide.

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The best new books of the month include highly anticipated follow-ups from Sloane Crosley, Sasha LaPointe and Juan Gómez-Jurado.
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Few YA series have garnered the level of devotion and praise achieved by Holly Black’s Folk of the Air series (FOTA), which followed Jude Duarte and her battle for power in Faerie. It’s no surprise that Black’s massive fan base rejoiced when the author released a spinoff duology, the Novels of Elfhame. Picking up right after the events of the first book, The Stolen Heir, The Prisoner’s Throne finds Suren, now queen of the Court of Teeth, and Oak Greenbriar, Jude’s brother and heir to the crown of Elfhame, on shifting soil, unsure of themselves and of each other.

While the first novel primarily followed Suren’s point of view, this time we get to be inside of Oak’s head. What was making this narrative switch like? Between the two characters, was one more challenging to write than the other?

It was definitely easier to write Oak’s point of view because I had made so many decisions in The Stolen Heir about his past and personality. It was hard to give both protagonists space, though. Even though we’re no longer in Suren’s point of view, we want to see how things play out for her. And there were some things about Oak’s past and point of view and certainly his powers that I needed to make more granular.

Did you have this spinoff in mind while you were writing any part of FOTA? If so, did planning for a spinoff impact the writing process of FOTA?

When I got to Queen of Nothing, I realized I wanted to write about Oak and Suren at some point in the future. I was intrigued by the way that Wren’s story both paralleled and contrasted with Jude’s. And I was interested in how much Jude sacrificed to make Oak’s life less traumatic than her own—and how despite all that, it still WAS traumatic. I wondered what it would be like to be Oak, doubly burdened by the trauma as well as the understanding that being “fine” was the only way to repay his family for what they’d done for him. I don’t think knowing that I wanted to revisit those characters changed the course of anything in the Folk of the Air books, but perhaps I did think of them a little more because of it.

What’s it been like to balance the telling of a brand new story alongside the incorporation of familiar, pre-existing elements from FOTA?

One of the reasons I wanted to start the duology with The Stolen Heir, and write from Wren’s point of view, was to give readers a chance to get to know Wren and Oak outside the characters they already have a connection with—Jude and Cardan in particular. I knew that we’d see people we knew from Elfhame both in the second book and in Oak’s memories. I hope that spending time getting to know Wren allows readers to care about everyone a lot in The Prisoner’s Throne.

One of the hardest things about having so many well-known characters in The Prisoner’s Throne is that they all needed to have room to be the clever and capable people we know them to be—which meant I needed to throw a lot of problems at them.

We meet Oak as a rambunctious but earnest child in the first series. Now, eight years later, he’s a teenager, scheming and wallowing and defying expectations in his own right. Was it difficult to transition to writing him as a teen? 

It was far more difficult than I expected to figure out who Oak was when he was older. I wanted him to have some of the chaos and whimsy of his younger self, but also to be a complicated, charming person who nonetheless reflected the violence into which he was born. I rewrote him in The Stolen Heir so many times that I am not sure anyone but me saw the final version, but now I can’t imagine him any other way.

A central theme of The Prisoner’s Throne is family: How much loyalty do we owe family? Who counts as family? And what is the role of violence in making or breaking a family? So—hypothetically, if one of your family members wronged another, could you still consider them a part of your family?

My grandmother used to say to me that the most important thing was that I never lie to her. Even if I did something terrible. Even if I murdered someone. That she would do whatever she needed to do to keep me safe, even if I was in the wrong—but I just couldn’t lie. I put that speech into a book at some point because it was so memorable to me. Honestly, it made me feel really loved. It’s definitely not how everyone looks at family and loyalty and values.

There are ways that members of my family—and everyone’s family—have wronged one another. We’re not perfect. I’ve wronged people. But there are also lines that if someone in my family crossed, I wouldn’t consider them family anymore. Despite my grandmother’s speech, I am sure that would have been true for her too. It’s so interesting in fiction to figure out just where that line is for each character.

One of the most enjoyable elements of your work is the riddles and tricks that the Fae tell each other. Do you have a favorite riddle that you’ve written?

Thank you! My favorite riddle—although not original to me—is one I used in Tithe: “What belongs to you, but others use it more than you do?” It’s a useful thing to write in a book, since the answer is, of course, your name.

In both the Folk of the Air and the Novels of Elfhame series, our protagonists begin as enemies and gradually warm up to each other. A famous quote from Cardan is “I have heard that for mortals, the feeling of falling in love is very like the feeling of fear.” What would you say is the secret to a compelling enemies-to-lovers romance?

I think there’s a narratively significant difference between enemies and people who don’t trust one another or who are even on opposite sides of a conflict. To me, the intensity of the personal hatred is what makes the enemies-to-lovers progression so compelling—along with, ideally, the surprise. We sort characters into particular roles in stories and that allows us to not necessarily consider a character to be a romantic possibility until, suddenly, they are. But to me, enemies to lovers is all about how an intensity of feeling blurs lines—and often obscures more complicated feelings, often about oneself as much as about the other person.

Although you’ve explored a multitude of fantastical concepts across your novels, Faerie is a lore you return to again and again, to the great delight of your readers. Will there be more novels or projects set in this realm in the future?

There will definitely be one more Elfhame novel—and what it’s about will be clear after getting to the end of The Prisoner’s Throne. After that, I’m less sure of the specifics, but I know there will be future books set in Faerie.

If you lived in Faerie, what kind of creature would you be, and why? Non-human answers only!

Possibly a phooka. I like the idea of transforming into different creatures and playing tricks on people. And the possibility of having horns.

Photo of Holly Black by Sharona Jacobs.

The beloved YA author discusses her hotly anticipated return to Elfhame.
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Agnes Lee’s debut graphic novel, 49 Days, opens with a series of short vignettes about a young woman trying to make a journey but being foiled—sometimes in dramatic and frightening fashion—by the forces of nature. Every day, she must start her journey only to fail again.

These opening sections are intentionally disorienting for the reader, as they are for the young protagonist, Kit—who, readers soon discover, is actually making her way through what’s known in Buddhist tradition as the bardo, a 49-day space between death and rebirth. 

Kit has died in an accident, and over the course of the novel, Kit’s attempts to reach the afterlife are interspersed with two other narratives: first, Kit’s memories of growing up in a loving family and falling in love; and second, glimpses of how Kit’s two siblings, mother and other loved ones are coping in the wake of her death. 

For Kit’s Korean American family, many memories and important moments center around food, prayer and ritual. Lee, who illustrates the New York Times’ “Metropolitan Diary” column, excels at capturing small moments of family life—learning a new word, sharing a meal together, begging to keep a stray cat—and at conveying intense grief—finding new pain in old joys, falling apart at the sight of that beloved cat waiting by the door of an empty room.

Lee cleverly utilizes three different colors, in addition to black and white, to indicate these three different narrative strands: Kit’s metaphysical journey is a soft blue, while her memories are a muted orange and the activities of her living family are a gentle pink. This is an unusual, profoundly moving graphic novel whose elegance belies its complexity and whose emotional impact only grows upon rereading.

49 Days is an unusual, profoundly moving graphic novel whose elegance belies its complexity and whose emotional impact only grows upon rereading.

The shocking disappearance of four people infuses suburban Palmetto, Illinois, with confusion and fear in Melissa Albert’s gripping supernatural horror thriller, The Bad Ones.

Among the missing is high school junior Nora Powell’s best friend, Becca Cross. As children, the duo established a creative partnership and spent hours in the woods together, with Nora writing stories about the goddesses they imagined, while Becca took photographs. When Becca’s parents died, Nora did her best to absorb Becca’s grief and be a source of constancy in an unstable world. But as Becca’s demeanor turned darker, revealing a discomfiting desire for vengeance, the girls began to drift apart.

As The Bad Ones begins, they haven’t spoken for months. Nonetheless, when Nora gets a text from Becca in the middle of the night, she rushes to Becca’s house and is nonplussed to discover she isn’t there. Nora’s bewilderment transforms into alarm when she realizes nobody has any idea what might’ve befallen Becca or the other three missing people, thanks to a bizarre lack of witnesses or evidence.

Tentative hope arrives in the form of clues Becca left for Nora, many of them referencing the goddess-centric activities of their youth and the urban legend that inspired them. Perhaps, if Nora can uncover the origins of the goddess game Palmetto students have been playing for decades, she can figure out where Becca went—and what she may have done. Nora eventually allows her classmates—shy, handsome James and amateur reporter Ruth—to join her efforts. Can they unravel the mysteries swirling around that fateful night before someone else disappears?

Albert, bestselling author of the Hazel Wood series and Our Crooked Hearts, expertly alternates between high school mundanity and supernatural spookiness, complemented by an impressive flair for the atmospheric. The Bad Ones is a compelling, often delightfully creepy coming-of-age tale that thoughtfully explores the nature of friendship, grief and the perilous power of unwavering belief.

 

The Bad Ones is a compelling, often delightfully creepy coming-of-age tale that thoughtfully explores the nature of friendship, grief and the perilous power of unwavering belief.

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