Cybils nominations close October 15! Have you made your nominations yet? Ikenga, reviewed below, is eligible and not yet nominated, while Shuri happily has been nominated. My category chair Charlotte has also posted a list of diverse elementary/middle grade speculative fiction books that are eligible and not yet nominated, if you are still looking for ideas.
If you, like me, loved T’Challa’s younger sister Shuri in the Black Panther movie, then you should absolutely try this book.
It’s not easy being a princess, especially when you’re more interested in technology than in fashion and diplomacy. And why is it that only men are Black Panthers, even though the all-female Dora Milaje are the most fearsome guards ever? Set just before the Black Panther’s challenge, Shuri is trying to get out of lengthy dress fittings to spend more time working on a new habit for her adored older brother when she discovers that something is causing the heart-shaped herb to die. Now she needs to rescue the heart-shaped herb at the same time as all the other jobs, sneaking out of the country with the girl her mother assigned as her best friend and guard to save the country in time to finish the habit before the challenge. She’s wondering if K’Marah really her friend if their mothers told them to be friends even as their travels bring the big disparity in living standards between Wakanda and its African neighbors.
This is a welcome, if bittersweet, return to Wakanda. Nic Stone is the perfect choice for this book, and I’d definitely recommend the audiobook as Anika Noni Rose is able to bring all the beautiful East African accents to life.
As the story opens, young Nnamdi and his mother are reeling from the unexpected shooting death of his father, the chief of police in a tiny but very corrupt town in rural Nigeria. One year later, there has been no progress made in identifying a suspect, and the crime rates have risen dramatically while Nnamdi is having a hard time relating with his friends, and his mother is also struggling with trying to support the family on one low-skilled income. When a frustrated Nnamdi steps out of the party to officially end the mourning period, he meets his father’s spirit, who gives him a special carving, an ikenga.
The ikenga transforms Nnamdi into a large, super-powered man, like an Incredible Hulk made of shadows, who is able to sense and stop crime. But the Man, as Nnamdi calls this form, is so full of anger that he is much more violent than he’d need to be to stop crimes. Both Nnamdi and the newspapers are upset about this, and Nnamdi’s unwillingness to talk about this with his best friend Chiomi causes a rift between them.
As you might guess from the cover, this is a darker superhero story, as even Nnamdi’s superpowers amplify his overall feelings of powerlessness. Still, over time, he finds ways to reconnect with Chiomi, so that together, they can solve the mystery of his father’s murder. The vivid Nigerian village setting adds a lot to the story.
Readers looking for more superhero stories could try:
Black Panther: the Young Prince by Ronald L. Smith
The League of Secret Heroes series by Kate Hannigan
I am still looking for books in both categories of nonfiction and realistic YA, so if you have any ideas or links to lists for me, please share in the comments!