Blood at the Root

­Random/Labyrinth Road. (Blood at the Root: Bk. 1). May 2024. 432p. Tr $20.99. ISBN 9780593711927.
Gr 10 Up–Seventeen-year-old Malik is haunted by the memory of his mother’s disappearance. Or was it her death? He can’t be sure. He can only remember the confusion and fear as shadowy, cloaked figures surrounded her, taking her away from him. The opportunity to find answers falls in his lap when he gets a letter from a grandmother in New Orleans he never knew he had, inviting him to stay with her, leading him to Caiman University, an HBCU for kids just like him—kids who’ve inherited magic. At Caiman, he has the chance to trace his mother’s footsteps, reconnect with the first girl he ever loved, and most of all, understand himself, the Black history that’s been hidden from him, and the forces within which he can barely control or comprehend. Williams joins Tracy Deonn, Namina Forna, B.B. Alston, and Tomi Adeyemi in envisioning a world where Black youth uncover and harness their magical abilities. Here Williams offers a fresh perspective in Malik. Everything about Malik’s world, from his neighbors to his internal dialogue, to his emotions, hopes, and fears, is written for Black boys, filling a much-needed gap in magical YA. And best of all, Williams’s debut is rooted in Black history, telling the truth through fantasy. As Williams writes in his author’s note, “let Black boys be the alchemists in their stories. Let Black boys be seen. Let them be colored softly.”
VERDICT A novel long overdue. Highly recommended for teen collections, particularly for readers wanting stories centralizing Black characters and experiences.

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