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.

Blackout

BlackoutThis collection of stories celebrating Black romance comes from an all-star squad of young adult authors. Editor Dhonielle Clayton (The Belles), is joined in this delightful anthology by: Tiffany D. Jackson (Allegedly), Nic Stone (Dear Martin), Angie Thomas (The Hate You Give), Ashley Woodfolk (The Beauty That Remains) and Nicola Yoon (The Sun Is Also a Star).

In six stories, we meet thirteen young people in various locations throughout Manhattan. They’re all in the midst of dealing with different romantic quandaries – confessing attraction, revealing secrets, healing from a breakup, or daring to be vulnerable. Then, a blackout hits. This disruption dramatically complicates their various situations. Whether they are stranded on a stalled subway train, struggling with only their cell phone for light, awkwardly connecting with new people, or finding themselves stuck with an old flame, the teens can’t escape their romantic dilemmas.

Each story is unique, but they are all tied together; most of the teens know each other and they’re all trying to get to the same block party in Brooklyn. One of the stories is set in a senior living facility. A brief look at the residents’ various love stories and relationships adds warmth without overshadowing the teens’ experiences. The characters are all honest in voice and action. The inclusive representation across gender and sexuality means many teens will find romantic stories that will resonate with them – or allow  them to dream. The laser focus on the teens’ love lives — with no reference to whatever chaos may be going on around them — makes the blackout feel like a cozy blanket instead of a disaster. These funny, heartwarming, sweet and complex stories focusing on Black love, not trauma, come just when we need them.

I usually wait until a book has been published to review it, but I was so excited about this one I couldn’t hold off. Pre-order Blackout now or find it in June at your local independent bookstore.

Dough Boys

Two people starting on the same path can end up in very different places.

43131603This follow up to So Done revisits the world of Pirates Cove public housing. 8th graders Roland “Rollie” Matthews and Deontae “Simp” Wright are best friends. Rollie is a talented drummer enrolled in a special program for young performing artists. He has a stable life, while Simp’s life is much more complicated. As the oldest of 5 boys living with their single mother, Simp is saddled with adult responsibilities.

Both boys play for the champion Marauders basketball team – which involves more than just basketball. When Coach Tez recruits players he’s also recruiting “dough boys” – lookouts for his drug dealing operation. Rollie got caught up in Tez’s gang only because he wanted to play basketball. For Simp it’s a clear path to respect and success. Rollie keeps it secret from his family but Simp doesn’t. His mother happily looks the other way, glad he can provide for the family. Rollie and Simp both come to a crossroads. They find themselves having to make very different but equally difficult decisions. Will they be able to handle the consequences?

This story explores how people can live in the same world but have very different experiences. Though Rollie and Simp both envision futures for themselves, even as middle schoolers they see the challenges. One sees a way out, the other finds a path that keeps him in. The chapters alternate between Rollie and Simp’s voices, giving a clear picture of their situations and struggles. The decisions they have to make are framed within the normal life of their 8th grade existence, including maintaining  loyalty to friends, having crushes, and managing the influence of peers.

One important thing about this story is that it doesn’t embrace the Black pain narrative that so many books include these days. Instead, it thoughtfully explores the realities of these young men’s lives without centering violence and suffering. This a relatable and engaging story for a wide variety of young readers.

Find Dough Boys at your local bookstore.