The NAACP Image Awards include literary categories with one award specifically focused on Outstanding Literary Work for Youth/Teens. Here are the nominees, a nice mix of fiction and nonfiction:
Chasing King’s Killer: The Hunt for Martin Luther King, Jr’s Assassin by James L. Swanson
Harbor Me by Jacqueline Woodson
The Journey of Little Charlie by Christopher Paul Curtis
A Very Large Expanse of Sea by Tahereh Mafi
We Are Not Yet Equal: Understanding Our Racial Divide by Carol Anderson with Tonya Bolden
We Set the Dark on Fire by Tehlor Kay Mejia (9780062691330)
Dani is the best Primera student in her class. As she nears graduation, she knows she will be paired with one of the most powerful men in society along with a Secunda. The Primera helps her husband with business and politics while the Secunda bears and raises their children. Dani has worn a mask for her entire time at school, living under an assumed identity in order to have a life different from her parents who live in poverty near the border of the wall. When her papers are about to be inspected, she is rescued by a man who brings her new ones. But when Dani is asked to spy on her new husband, she realizes she must start to make choices about what world she wants to live in. As time goes by, Dani gets closer with Carmen, the Secunda in their trio. Carmen had bullied Dani at school, but as tensions rise and arrests are made, Dani must find someone to trust. Her heart believes she can trust Carmen, but is that just desire talking?
Mejia has created a magnificent look at our modern society through the lens of a fantasy world. The world has a large wall that marks the border. There is strong rhetoric by the ruling class that those on the other side of the wall are less than human. Beautifully, she uses Latinx elements to create a deep and rich world in which her characters live in constant danger. Dani and the reader have no idea who to trust or who is working with the rebels. The use of the marriage of one man to two women adds a creepy note to the book and says even more about the value of women in a society and the extent of the privilege at play.
Dani is a character I loved from the very first pages. She is immensely flawed in ways that make sense given her traumatic experiences and the secrets she must keep. She remains emotionally connected with her family, thinking about them often even as she keeps a placid face all the time. As she struggles with feeling desire for Carmen, it is not about Carmen being a woman but about her training as a Primera. Their connection is an example of how Mejia takes trust and twists it, making for a book that is a wild and wonderful ride.
Latinx, LGBTQ love, political intrigue, and a vivid fantasy world come together to make an impressive teen read. Appropriate for ages 15-18.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Katherine Tegen Books.