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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.
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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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An orphan and immigrant in the vast industrial city of White Roaring, Arthie Casimir has made a name for herself as the proprietor of Spindrift, an innovative teahouse situated at the intersection of the posh and working class sides of town. Alongside her adopted brother, Jin, Arthie is offering something unique at Spindrift—especially to the city’s vampire population, which is  tolerated but not entirely trusted, especially under the regime of the Ram, the country’s latest masked monarch. As policies shift from hands-off ignorance to active antagonism, the Casimirs realize the Ram intends for Spindrift to close, one way or another.

When Arthie receives a mysterious visit from Laith, a member of the Ram’s guard who claims to want to take down the Ram, she agrees to help, despite knowing Laith is hiding his true agenda. Joined by allies such as a talented forger from high society and a famous artist who happens to be a vampire, Arthie, Jin and Laith plan to challenge the Ram by stealing a ledger containing damning secrets.

With A Tempest of Tea, Hafsah Faizal (We Hunt the Flame) plugs fully into the young adult fantasy zeitgeist while exploring the violence of colonialism, as well as capitalism’s inextricable role in colonial expansion and conquest. Vampires are portrayed fairly traditionally, with characteristics seen throughout literature. Their sultry allure is on full display, and scenes where our young protagonists interact with the more mature vampires are among the novel’s strongest. While the multiple-perspective heist story is a familiar setup, A Tempest of Tea exemplifies many favored themes present throughout YA novels: reevaluating familial ties, validating chosen family and exploring trauma’s role in character development. Readers who enjoy Leigh Bardugo and Roshani Chokshi, are excited about vampires coming back into vogue, or are looking for historical fantasy and fast-paced, alluring drama will surely drink up A Tempest of Tea.

With A Tempest of Tea, Hafsah Faizal plugs fully into the young adult fantasy zeitgeist, weaving serious themes into a fast-paced and thrilling heist story.
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Kacen Callender dedicates their first foray into young adult fantasy, Infinity Alchemist, to “the younger me who always wanted to write a YA fantasy.” While this might make one imagine a teenage Callender dreaming of a future as an author, Callender explains it is actually in reference to their early days of their career, when they struggled to write fantasy. “It was very difficult at that time, for whatever reason, to get the story out,” they say. ”Infinity Alchemist had been percolating for a lot of years, so it felt like a massive triumph for me to finally write it.”

What made this book such a challenge in those early days? Callender points to their struggle to pull together all the many necessary threads of this narrative into a cohesive storyline: “I didn’t quite understand plotting yet. Now, hopefully, I do.”

Some readers might view this focus on plot and action as a departure from Callender’s previous books, which are character-driven and move at a slower tempo, titles that might be deemed “quiet” by the publishing industry. In Infinity Alchemist, “there’s a lot of fighting scenes, a lot of explosive battles, a lot of excitement, alongside the emotional depth,” Callender says. Yet with its theme of learning about one’s self-worth, Infinity Alchemist still has a characteristic Callender feeling to it.  “With all of my books, I tend to focus on a theme, some sort of internal healing and a message that I hope will resonate with readers,” they say.

Read our review of ‘Infinity Alchemist.’ 

One of the guiding principles of the fantasy world of Infinity Alchemist is that everyone has equal access to alchemy, but people still experience different degrees of success in learning alchemy, often due to the deliberate manipulation of the system by those in power. Protagonist Ash Woods is unusually gifted, but he has been denied access to the training that would make his power legitimate. Regarding the tension that creates, Callender says, “For me, it was always important that there not be a Chosen One, to include the idea that everyone is powerful and everyone is magical, and everyone is Chosen in the eyes of the Source or the Creator or what have you. I wanted to explain how power is internal; power is realizing that you are worthy without being gaslit by the idea of societal power.” But Callender adds: “You can feel power for yourself and feel that self-worth, but there are still other people who have the power to decide that you aren’t worthy. I wanted those different versions of power to be in conversation.”

“I wanted to explain how power is internal; power is realizing that you are worthy without being gaslit by the idea of societal power.”

Callender has a history of telling the stories of characters whose identities aren’t often represented in media, and Infinity Alchemist continues that work with a diverse cast of queer, trans, and polyamorous characters. Ramsay Thorne, for instance, is genderfluid, and the book seamlessly shifts pronouns throughout the character’s arc. This technique foregrounds Ramsay’s story more than Ramsay’s pronouns. “Ramsay comes to life in that way because it is going to be different for every reader, depending on where they last left the character. For example, I’m writing the sequel now, so for me the last I saw Ramsay, he was using he/him pronouns. But for you, having just read Infinity Alchemist, she was using she/her pronouns.”

Whether through the use of shifting pronouns or depicting a trusting polyamorous relationship, Callender’s work makes more visible the lived realities of countless people, and Infinity Alchemist is flooded with empathy and compassion. “That’s one of the great beauties of being able to write about these identities,” Callender says, as they explain how the imaginative act of reading allows anyone to “become” a character. “Even though you as a reader might not ever understand all the ways an identity can work, you can for a moment become that queer Black trans kid, and you’re understanding all of their wounds and their traumas and their grief and their healing.”

Callender builds on this idea: “Regardless of identity, that’s where a character is built: inside the idea that we all have these wounds that we either inherited or experienced. From my perspective, life is the story arc of healing those wounds.”

“That’s where a character is built: inside the idea that we all have these wounds that we either inherited or experienced.”

That wisdom comes through in every page of Infinity Alchemist. In the book, as Ash and Ramsay are coming to trust each other, Ramsay lists some of Ash’s more frustrating qualities, claiming him to be “selfish . . . and hot-tempered, and irrational, and you act without thinking.” Then Ramsay pivots to Ash’s kindness and curiosity, explaining, “It’s lazy to put a multifaceted human being, created from the alchemy of the universe, into a box of good or bad. No one is only one of the two.” When I ask Callender about the apt specificity of “lazy” here, they laugh and agree that it’s the perfect word. “It’s easy to decide that someone is good or bad instead of wanting to do the work. It’s a lot of work to look at a person and consider their traumas and wounds and all that has built them to be the person who they are today.”

We closed our time by discussing the relationships depicted in Infinity Alchemist and the way “polyamory reflects the concept of healing in the book, where everyone is worthy of love, and the idea that love cannot be limited.” Callender says, “I understand that some readers might ask why polyamory, or might not understand what it is as an identity. But it’s my hope that as there are more books with the topic of polyamory, it will be more accepted.”

Acceptance, self-worth, healing, love. “What’s better than that?” I ask, to which Callender replies, “Exactly.”

Photo of Kacen Callender by Bella Porter.

Having conquered several other genres, the acclaimed author discusses their young adult fantasy debut, Infinity Alchemist.
STARRED REVIEW

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Beloved and buzzy authors such as Tia Williams, Francis Spufford and Katherine Arden took new and exciting directions in February!
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The rain never stops and most of the world is underwater, but Jin Halder refuses to dive again after her father’s fatal accident. All she wants to do is keep her 14-year-old sister, Thara, alive and ensure their family’s inn stays afloat. But when a drifter named Bhili visits their inn and promises a share of treasure submerged in a now-sunken Las Vegas, Jin can’t help but be interested—especially when Thara is determined to go.

Into the Sunken City (HarperTeen, $19.99, 9780063310513) paints a harrowing but beautiful picture of a rain-soaked apocalyptic world.Cities named “Phoenix-Below” and “Vegas-Drowned” add to the eerie feeling that this world is an uncanny reflection of what our world could be in the aftermath of a mysterious natural disaster. Humans have adapted to this world, putting sailing and diving at the forefront of survival, yet nature constantly reminds them of its power: Dangerous creatures fill the deep; rough waters threaten to overturn boats; and torrential, nonstop rain impacts all human life on the surface. 

Jin is sarcastic and practical, yet intensely devoted to her family. Her sister, Thara, is a gentle gardener and culinary extraordinaire who’s interested in adventure. The mysterious drifter, Bhili, tells Jin about the sunken gold, but not much else about her past. And despite Jin’s mistrust of him after he secretly joined the Coast Guard, Jin’s recent ex, Taim, also joins their crew. Into the Sunken City creates compelling dynamics among these diverse and lively characters: Jin, for example, is torn between being Thara’s guardian and her sister, forced to balance the nuances of raising a teenager while being a teenager herself. 

Jin is wary of both Bhili and Taim, while Thara seems more open towards others. In a world where survival isn’t guaranteed, it’s no surprise that Jin struggles with trust. She wrestles with nightmares about her father’s death and has a blazing determination to keep Thara, her only remaining family member, safe. Ultimately, Into the Sunken City is about learning what it means to stay hopeful—and learning how to keep going when that hope is broken.

Charming characters and multilayered mysteries will keep readers hooked from beginning to end in this well-developed eco-thriller with a lot of heart.

Charming characters and multilayered mysteries will keep readers hooked from beginning to end in Into the Sunken City, a well-developed eco-thriller with a lot of heart.
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From a high-rise apartment, a boy and his pregnant mother witness, in real time, a massive explosion devastate 20 blocks of an Australian city. The cause is never discovered, and in the aftermath, a superhighway is constructed over the site. 

Twelve years later, the same mother speeds down the highway toward an abandoned shopping mall to drop off her disgruntled 12-year-old daughter, Hailey, off at a holiday camp. Bored and frustrated, Hailey is wandering around when she meets Jen, a cool older girl who isn’t with the group. Taking the opportunity to rebel against her mother, she joins Jen on a tour of the decrepit building. Meanwhile, two other boys have split off from the group and made an unsettling discovery. Something is biding its time in the building, and it won’t be contained for much longer.

Melbourne-based cartoonist Chris Gooch’s new YA graphic novel, In Utero, is a brief but clever offering that pulls from both modern and classic monster stories. Echoing franchises like “Stranger Things,” “The Last of Us” and Godzilla while nodding artistically to Junji Ito, Gooch hits many familiar beats of sci-fi horror in a tightly coiled narrative about fear, family and the things waiting underground.

In illustrations that flirt with the uncanny (before eventually giving in fully), Gooch utilizes a unique color palette: Alternating between color washes of red and blue over black and white drawings, he evokes the disorientation of looking at the real world through 3D glasses. The color change typically marks a change in scene or tone, and along with the frequent use of dramatic shifts in perspective between panels, the effect is decidedly cinematic. 

At just under 250 pages, In Utero functions similarly to a short film: The time frame is minimal; the emotional arcs are intense; and the action happens in short, potent bursts. Much of the reader’s processing will likely occur after the fact.

Though Gooch relies perhaps a little too heavily on abstraction (even for seasoned consumers of surrealism), In Utero presents a compelling universe that is more likely to fascinate than it is to disappoint. It won’t be the consistently high-octane monster story that some might expect, but fans of Tillie Walden or Antoine Revoy’s Animus will enjoy Chris Gooch’s head-spinning take on the genre.

Chris Gooch hits many familiar beats of sci-fi horror in In Utero, a tightly coiled narrative about fear, family and the things waiting underground.
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“Our privilege don’t work like theirs,” says a young Black man in Jumata Emil’s second novel, Wander in the Dark (Delacorte, $19.99, 9780593651858). He’s one character of many trying to navigate a world and system that sets Black men up to fail. In this riveting mystery, Emil uses his pen like a jagged knife, cutting open painful truths of how racism seeps through class and politics, before sewing up the resulting wounds with the healing power of community. 

All Marcel wants to do is make things right with his half-brother Amir, even though their parents don’t get along and their lives are worlds apart. He’s shocked when Amir shows up to his swanky birthday party and even more shocked when Amir leaves with Marcel’s best friend, Chloe, a popular white girl with a penchant for making trouble. When Amir wakes up the next morning on Chloe’s sofa and finds her blood-soaked body in her bedroom, he panics. He knows what happens to young Black men in situations like this. Through chapters that alternate between the brothers’ perspectives, Emil slowly unravels a mystery that unmasks not only a killer but also a community built on lies. 

Emil’s tinderbox of a murder mystery is at its best when exploring the fractured family Marcel and Amir share. The gulf between the brothers’ lives—from their skin tones to financial status—and how they attempt to bridge that divide composes the bedrock of the novel. Queer readers will also appreciate how Marcel’s sexuality is explored matter-of-factly.

Emil is a seasoned journalist covering crime and politics in the American South, and his writing reflects that experience. Genuinely shocking acts of racism appear about halfway through the story, but in Emil’s hands, the pain and anger produced is also expertly excised by both love and justice to create a satisfying story. Truthful and twisted at the same time, Wander in the Dark is both a thrill and a delight.

In this riveting mystery, Jumata Emil uses his pen like a jagged knife, cutting open painful truths of how racism seeps through class and politics, before sewing up the resulting wounds with the healing power of community.
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In their introduction to Poemhood: Our Black Revival, editors Amber McBride, Taylor Byas and Erica Martin describe the anthology as “a celebration—a homage to the beauty and musicality of Black poetry, folklore, and history.” As the editors themselves go on to reflect, Black culture and art has for too long been subject to an “exclusivity of story,” presented beyond Black communities only in revised forms or erased from classrooms and canons entirely. Poemhood represents a vital corrective to such exclusion. 

McBride, Byas and Martin pull no punches in their anthology’s curation of over 30 writers. Black literary icons such as Gwendolyn Brooks, Audre Lord and James Baldwin populate these pages along with an impressive lineup of contemporary poets including Nikki Giovanni, Danez Smith and the editors themselves.

The contents are not organized chronologically “because, in Black culture, ancestors are ever present—their strength and legacy guide us long after they are gone.” Instead, Poemhood takes its structural cues from mixtapes: The poems, listed as numbered “tracks,” are organized into loosely thematic sections called “volumes.” Each track is followed by an “outro,” a short annotation that provides context while resisting analytical authority. The outros’ open-endedness encourages readers to reflect on their own interpretations of the poems, embodying one of the anthology’s goals: to “speak to the eclectic Black experience and emphasize how it is not a monolithic culture.”

For example, in the chilling 1973 poem, “A Fable,” Etheridge Knight (who released his debut collection in 1968 after an eight-year prison sentence) depicts seven incarcerated Black men and women arguing about the true path to freedom. As the poem ends, the prisoners are “still arguing; and to this day they are still in their prison cells, their stomachs / trembling with fear.” In stark contrast, editor Martin’s “(un)chained” is a defiant declaration of hope in the face of mass incarceration. “go ahead— / trap our bodies / in shackles / behind bars,” Martin writes, “as if you could lock up / our will to survive.” 

In her 1991 poem “won’t you celebrate with me,” Lucille Clifton writes, “come celebrate with me / that everyday / something has tried to kill me / and has failed.” What makes Poemhood such a triumphant and necessary work is its uncompromising commitment to the celebration of Black life, in spite of pain. By shuffling classic and contemporary poets together, the editors show how this tension plays out across decades and centuries, but magic, restoration and joy always prevail. In the anthology’s final poem, Nikki Giovanni writes, “We learn to negotiate / The space between / Imagination and possibility / Reality and probability.” The poets in this anthology negotiate the terms of celebration across time and experience, and the result is extraordinary.

Award-winning author Amber McBride teams up with acclaimed poets Taylor Byas and Erica Martin to curate an electric, extraordinary lineup of contemporary and classic Black poetry for young readers.

For 10 years, Julius Gong has lived rent-free in 17-year-old Sadie Wen’s head. He’s her school co-captain at Woodvale Academy and “the most prominent source of pain in my life.” The two compete in academics, athletics and anything else possible to compete in. They communicate mainly via taunting, eye-rolling and impatient sighs.

But despite frequently feeling intense animosity toward Julius (“Just seeing him makes me want to put my fist through something hard—ideally, his jaw”), Sadie hardly ever talks about it or any of her other frustrations. Instead, she vents in email drafts addressed to Julius and also people like Rosie, who won last year’s science fair with work she stole from Sadie, and Ms. Johnson, a teacher who refused to round up an 89.5 to a 90.

The secret emails have helped Sadie maintain her amicable persona, but everything changes when the drafts are somehow sent out all at once in the middle of a school day. After years of assiduously avoiding conflict, Sadie’s suddenly faced with a situation she might not be able to fix or apologize for. What is she going to do?

For starters, she’s mortified at the people now mad at her for being mad at them—and shocked when it turns out that not only is her fabulous BFF Abigail on her side, but Julius just might be, too. Is it possible he’s also been hiding some complicated feelings?

Fans of rivals-to-lovers romances will delight in I Hope This Doesn’t Find You and its protagonists’ attempts to find common ground in heady will-they-won’t-they scenes that deftly capture the two overachievers’ struggles with vulnerability. They’ll root for Sadie to consider what she wants rather than devoting her life to being the best people-pleaser ever. Chinese Australian author Ann Liang’s heartfelt third novel (after If You Could See the Sun and This Time It’s Real) is an engaging story steeped in humor and empathy, encouraging readers to consider that relentlessly striving for success might not be the best path to a truly rewarding life.

Fans of rivals-to-lovers romances will delight in I Hope This Doesn’t Find You’s heady will-they-won’t-they scenes that deftly capture two overachievers’ struggles with vulnerability.

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