T’Challa, I’ve got a feeling we’re not in Wakanda anymore.
In his latest, Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe Award–winning author Smith (Hoodoo, 2016) weaves an origin tale of T’Challa, the prince of the African Wakanda people who becomes the superhero Black Panther. Readers meet T’Challa while he’s still a preteen, racing through the forests of his homeland with his best friend, M’Baku, by his side. There is unrest in Wakanda, however, and to protect his son from harm, the king sends T’Challa and M’Baku to South Side Middle School in Chicago under aliases, giving them a chance to learn about the outside world. While the overall story is well-paced, readers do not spend long enough in Wakanda for T’Challa’s pre-Chicago character to fully solidify. The novel ably depicts the pressure both boys feel to assimilate into American culture and nicely teases out the tensions and jealousies that simmer below the surface of their friendship. M’Baku, out of T’Challa’s princely shadow for the first time, is in danger of losing himself, while T’Challa must find an identity separate from that which his royal status affords him. At times, the boys’ naiveté about American culture—played for laughs—strains credulity. The tale’s most profound sections show T’Challa grappling with American racial history and the complications inherent in being perceived to be African-American.
An entertaining thrill that leaves readers wanting more. (Fantasy. 9-14)