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BLOOD AT THE ROOT

From the Blood at the Root series , Vol. 1

A well-thought-out magical world that provocatively centers Black experiences.

Black diaspora magic manifests in a boy on the worst day of his life—but later, things only get more complicated.

When Malik Baron was 7, his mother vanished in the explosive moment his powers manifested while he defended them from mysterious cloaked figures. Ten years (and many foster homes later), the short-tempered Malik isn’t much better at controlling his powers, but he’s ready to leave Helena, Alabama, and start over with Taye, his foster brother. Reuniting with Mama Aya, the maternal grandmother in New Orleans he never knew, wasn’t part of the plan, but fate draws Malik to her—and into a secret world of magic. He discovers Caiman University—a sort of magical historically Black college—which may be where he’ll find answers to what happened to his mother. Narrator Malik, who uses colorful language, is fully aware of the Black Harry Potter subtext of his story, and he’s thoughtfully focused on protecting Taye, proving his mother is still alive, and surviving in a world that has never made things easy, even before supernatural threats emerged. The extensive worldbuilding incorporates West African, Caribbean, and Black American history and cultures to explain a magical reality hidden from view and relevant to the Black diaspora and Malik’s family history. When Malik bumps into an old friend and potential love interest on campus, everything is in place for him to grow into his powers, uncover the truth, and face new heartbreak.

A well-thought-out magical world that provocatively centers Black experiences. (Fantasy. 13-18)

Pub Date: May 7, 2024

ISBN: 9780593711927

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Labyrinth Road

Review Posted Online: Feb. 17, 2024

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2024

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IF HE HAD BEEN WITH ME

There’s not much plot here, but readers will relish the opportunity to climb inside Autumn’s head.

The finely drawn characters capture readers’ attention in this debut.

Autumn and Phineas, nicknamed Finny, were born a week apart; their mothers are still best friends. Growing up, Autumn and Finny were like peas in a pod despite their differences: Autumn is “quirky and odd,” while Finny is “sweet and shy and everyone like[s] him.” But in eighth grade, Autumn and Finny stop being friends due to an unexpected kiss. They drift apart and find new friends, but their friendship keeps asserting itself at parties, shared holiday gatherings and random encounters. In the summer after graduation, Autumn and Finny reconnect and are finally ready to be more than friends. But on August 8, everything changes, and Autumn has to rely on all her strength to move on. Autumn’s coming-of-age is sensitively chronicled, with a wide range of experiences and events shaping her character. Even secondary characters are well-rounded, with their own histories and motivations.

There’s not much plot here, but readers will relish the opportunity to climb inside Autumn’s head.   (Fiction. 14 & up)

Pub Date: April 1, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-4022-7782-5

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire

Review Posted Online: Feb. 12, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2013

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IF ONLY I HAD TOLD HER

A heavy read about the harsh realities of tragedy and their effects on those left behind.

In this companion novel to 2013’s If He Had Been With Me, three characters tell their sides of the story.

Finn’s narrative starts three days before his death. He explores the progress of his unrequited love for best friend Autumn up until the day he finally expresses his feelings. Finn’s story ends with his tragic death, which leaves his close friends devastated, unmoored, and uncertain how to go on. Jack’s section follows, offering a heartbreaking look at what it’s like to live with grief. Jack works to overcome the anger he feels toward Sylvie, the girlfriend Finn was breaking up with when he died, and Autumn, the girl he was preparing to build his life around (but whom Jack believed wasn’t good enough for Finn). But when Jack sees how Autumn’s grief matches his own, it changes their understanding of one another. Autumn’s chapters trace her life without Finn as readers follow her struggles with mental health and balancing love and loss. Those who have read the earlier book will better connect with and feel for these characters, particularly since they’ll have a more well-rounded impression of Finn. The pain and anger is well written, and the novel highlights the most troublesome aspects of young adulthood: overconfidence sprinkled with heavy insecurities, fear-fueled decisions, bad communication, and brash judgments. Characters are cued white.

A heavy read about the harsh realities of tragedy and their effects on those left behind. (author’s note, content warning) (Fiction. 14-18)

Pub Date: Feb. 6, 2024

ISBN: 9781728276229

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire

Review Posted Online: Jan. 5, 2024

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2024

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