The Weight of Blood

Black teen girl wearing tiara and Prom Queen sash drenched in blood, set against a black background.A bullied teen, her unhinged parent, a prom and telekinesis. You may think you know where this horror novel is going but trust me, you do not.

A true crime podcast host is looking to uncover the truth about a tragedy that struck a small Georgia town years before. Does the blame really rest on one teen girl, Maddie Washington? Going back and forth in time, the narrative spools out the story in the podcast’s current day interviews with survivors and experts, woven with the events as they happened.

Maddie and her white father live in a small Georgia town where even in 2014 the community continues the tradition of hosting segregated proms – one for white students, another for Black students. Maddie is biracial but has been passing for white her whole life. No one ever knew her mother. Her abusive father keeps her terrorized at the thought of anyone finding out she is part Black.

To make matters worse for Maddie, her father has recreated a 1960’s era world in their home with no cable tv or internet. All Maddie sees are videos of “Father Knows Best” type television shows, old movies and whitewashed history lessons. It’s reminiscent of people today who try to recreate a world  where white men rule and no one else matters.

Maddie’s secret is revealed when an unexpected rainstorm sends her hot comb straightened hair back to its naturally coily state. One classmate, Jules, starts launching pencils into Maddie’s hair; other classmates joyfully join into the abuse. A video of the incident goes viral, bringing their school and community unwanted attention. What the video doesn’t show is Maddie begging them to stop. As she gets more and more upset, classroom lights break, windows shatter, and the floor heaves. The viral video causes things to escalate in this divided town, coming to a horrifying climax on prom night.

Each character in this story brings a different point of view, adding complexity to the narrative. Kendrick, the Black football star is  accepted by the white kids because of his talent, but has to live with that pressure and his tenuous relationship with other Black students. Kendrick’s sister Kali founded the school’s Black Student Union and isn’t afraid to stand up against the daily racism Black students endure. Jules, who started the bullying, feels victimized when called on it, blaming Maddie for this new experience of suffering consequences for her actions.  Wendy, Kendrick’s white girlfriend, believes dating Kendrick makes her a good person and will not stand for anything that gets in the way of her self-image.

Tiffany D. Jackson is an incredible writer who skillfully blends issues of racism, pseudo-allyship, entitlement, police brutality and the supernatural into a compelling story. This horror novel asks what’s more frightening, otherworldly powers or the impact of racism on Black people’s everyday lives?

Find The Weight of Blood at your local bookstore.

Allies: Real Talk About Showing Up, Screwing Up and Trying Again

allies

Allies: Real Talk About Showing Up, Screwing Up and Trying Again is the guide we all need to help us do better. Though written for preteen and teen readers, adults will also get a lot from this book. As we head into the new year, we continue to face social, political and medical challenges. While there are many things we can’t control one thing we can do is take better care of each other. Who doesn’t want to be an ally? A better question is, how do we do it right?

This collection contains essays and one comic from a diversity of authors telling their own true experiences with allyship, whether from the perspective of needing allies or being allies. They’re honest about their own mistakes, offering a non-judgmental look at how even with the best of intentions we can (and probably will at some point), get it wrong. It provides insights on what to do to get it right.

Brendon Kiely, who co-authored “All American Boys” with Jason Reynolds, admits that he was once the “@$&” and reveals how he learned to stand up for people – even when they aren’t in the room. Shakirah Bourne writes about “glitches in the Matrix.” These are times when we gaslight ourselves because facing the reality of what we’re experiencing is too painful. Adiba Jaigirdar tells about how people who believed themselves to be powerful allies didn’t even recognize how dismissive they were of her experiences. I.W Gregorio, a doctor and author, writes about her evolution from ally to co-conspirator with intersex people. Marietta B. Zacker writes from the other side by talking about what it means to have someone stand up for you. One of the most fascinating essays is from Kayla Whaley. As a child she was featured on Jerry Lewis’s telethon for muscular dystrophy. Even then she understood how important it was to be both charming and strategic in how she answered questions when being interviewed on TV. Looking back on that time she considers whether she was acting as an ally (raising funds for research), an exploiter (manipulating the audience) or the exploited (used as a visual aid to help generate cash.) As she thinks through these questions she raises issues we all should consider.

The book also contains practical advice and a wide variety of resources, including websites, books and podcasts, all recommended by the authors. I was surprised at how many different experiences and situations the book covered, all presented in a relatable and informative manner. Allies deserves a place on every bookshelf.

Find Allies at your local independent bookstore.

Artie and the Wolf Moon

ArtieGet ready for a horror story with a heart.

Eighth grader Artemis “Artie” Irvin is one of the few Black people at her school. She gets picked on but doesn’t care. Artie immerses herself in her favorite activity, old school film photography, a hobby she picked up from her late father. She wants to go out at night and take pictures under the full moon, but her mother Loretta says no, worried about Artie’s safety. Of course, Artie sneaks out any way. She sees a wolf and runs home, terrified. The wolf ends up at Artie’s door – and transforms into her mother! Artie demands answers. Loretta explains that yes, she’s a werewolf. Being a werewolf is an inherited trait, but since Artie’s late father was human (making her bi-mammalian), Loretta isn’t sure if Artie will become one. Artie is excited about the idea that she could become an apex predator, but her mom warns her – werewolves are not the scariest things out there.

When Artie’s abilities do emerge she and her mother go to a nearby community of werewolves where Artie learns more about her heritage and how to manage her powers. Finally, she’s in a place where she fits in and is accepted. She even finds romance with Maya, a werewolf she meets there. Things get complicated and scary when Artie learns secrets about her family’s past and how vampires threaten not just the werewolf community, but Artie’s family in particular.

The narrative weaves deftly through time – from the origins of werewolves during slavery, to Artie’s parents’ courtship, to Artie’s coming of age in the werewolf community. Artie and Maya’s queer romance is sweet. The conflicts between werewolves and vampires are dramatic and scary. The art integrates with the story beautifully; color is used skillfully to set time, place, and ominous moods. The werewolves are all Black and the vampires are light skinned.

I enjoyed this graphic novel so much! The narrative and art successfully blend heritage, horror and love into a compelling story.

Find Artie and the Wolf Moon at your local bookstore or comic book shop.