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Arts & Life

Young Adult Summer Books


We do, as you know, a lot of books on this show. And one of the most practical things we do is help you treat whatever pain the weather is giving you with a good book recommendation. In December, you can curl up in front of the fire. In July, skip the sunscreen and curl up inside under your ceiling fan. And today, our books editor Barrie Hardymon is here to help your kids, specifically your teens and late tweens, transport themselves away from the heat, humidity and teenage angst into the wonderful world of YA. Hey, Barrie.


GARCIA-NAVARRO: So, of course, for those in the know, YA stands for young adults. But they can and should be read by everyone. I'm a fan. And I know you are, too. But I think what is shocking to realize is that "The Hunger Games" books that truly kicked out the YA thing - they're 10 years old now.

HARDYMON: I know it's crazy. And it was really the height of that dystopian trend that became really associated with YA. That was what people thought YA was. But now there's, like, a lot of really exciting things happening that I want to talk about that don't have to do with dystopias.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So what? What are we seeing?

HARDYMON: Wakanda - anyone who got excited about Marvel's "Black Panther" movie, which I believe was everyone, will recognize the Afro-futurist world of Wakanda. And it has really started to infiltrate YA. And I should say, by the way, many of these books came out before "Black Panther," but I think it's now become, like, a real trend. And if you haven't heard about Tomi Adeyemi's epic high fantasy "Children Of Blood And Bone," well, now you know. And you're welcome. The book is the first of a projected trilogy. It came out in March. Brace yourself. It was written by a 24-year-old who sold the book for seven figures. She's a Nigerian-American. And it's really steeped in the sort of West African mythology. It takes place in Orisha where there is this cruel and oppressive king. He hates the Magi, who are the people who once wielded magic. The Magi have snow-white hair. They are the darker-skinned inhabitants of a world that is entirely populated by people of color. But the Magi are these sort of second-class citizens. And they're often - they often have these run-ins with the police or are killed by the soldiers for small offenses. And one of the main protagonists, Zelie, who we fall in love with, is one of them. And it's - and the book is about her crusade to topple the kingdom.

So yes. It is a parable of oppression. No, it is not heavy-handed. It is this incredible world where there are these incredible - these massive-horned leoponaires walking around the land of the jackalberry trees. It is also - as much as it is so much fun to read as - you know, I think, for adults reading this, you will see, you know, that, you know, power in the world is marked by your hair getting curlier and your skin getting darker. I love to think of teenagers graduating from the world of "Harry Potter," which was, you know, pretty white, to the protagonists of Orisha.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: OK. That book sounds amazing. And it is now on my list, but...

HARDYMON: It's actually on your desk.



GARCIA-NAVARRO: But I guess we have to wait for sequels, right? So what else you got?

HARDYMON: We do but good news that there's so much other wonderful YA out there. You know that one of my favorite writers is Nnedi Okorafor, and she's also Nigerian. In fact, I realize I'm about to talk about three Nigerian-American authors. There's so much wonderful West African mythology. All three books that I'm talking about use it in this different way but are plays on a similar set of gods and goddesses and feelings. But - so the "Akata" series is, you know, another fabulous heroine. She belongs to a secret magical society. Okorafor has been around for a long time. The late, wonderful Ursula Le Guin was a huge Nnedi Okorafor fan - Neil Gaiman. She's kind of like the...


HARDYMON: Yeah. But people don't know her. So go and buy this one. And then when HBO comes out with its new series that it's doing on one of her other books, you will be the person that said you knew about her all along.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: All right. What else you got?

HARDYMON: So a third author, Tochi Onyebuchi, wrote this great book called "Beasts Made Of Night." His protagonist is the black, teenage Taj. And this is such a cool setup. He is one of the aki. And the job of the aki in this city is to literally consume the transgressions of others - in his case, the royal family - so usually in the forms of these, like, phantasms, these sins that then appear as tattoos on his skin. And he consumes a sin that is so large that it sort of kicks the plot off in this direction. But think about that idea that there is someone else who is consuming the transgressions of the ruling class. It is such a great premise. The book is such a wonderful piece of worldbuilding. I can't wait for the second one, which is "Crown Of Thunder" coming out in October.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah. It just sounds like these books are really taking us in a completely different direction when you think of YA.

HARDYMON: That is absolutely true. And the new world that it's taking us into is a world of color where you have protagonists who are black. And the truth is is they should have been there all along because, in general, all of these stories are about oppression. That's what "The Hunger Games" was about. And now publishers are taking in these stories and are realizing that the best people to tell these stories are the people that know it in real life. I think that people read "The Hunger Games" at one point, and they thought, Katniss Everdeen is who I want to be. But I really think that the next generation is going to want to be Zelie and is going to want their hair curlier and their skin darker.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's Barrie Hardymon. She is WEEKEND EDITION's books editor. Thank you so much.

HARDYMON: You're welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.