NPR congressional correspondent Susan Davis takes a break from her duties in Washington to review to chat with young adult author Daniel José Older. His three fantasy recommendations are perfect for closing out summer break.
The end of summer means those school holiday reading assignments are hopefully being finished off and on their way to being turned in — but if you have a young bookworm at home, we’re here for you. We’ve got a whole list of fantastic young adult novels they can turn to next. And here to guide us on this quest is fantasy and young adult author Daniel José Older.
“I love a story that really transforms the world that I’m in, even if it’s using a totally different world,” he says. “At the end of the day, every young adult novel should be about a young person stepping forward into who they are, whether that be through understanding life better or finding, you know, magic bad guys.”
Daniel José Older’s Recommendations
‘Wings of Ebony,’ by J. Elle
It’s an incredible debut about a young woman who is learning terrible and amazing things about the magical legacy of her family. She’s forced out of her comfort zone to really step up and protect her sister and throw herself kind of into the fire of this entirely new world.
‘Legendborn,’ by Tracy Deonn
SD: It follows 16-year-old Bree Matthews as she uncovers a secret society of demons preying on students at her summer program at UNC Chapel Hill. What does Bree find out about the society?
DJO: So Bree finds out that this whole secret society is connected to Arthurian legends. My favorite place is that crossroads of mythology and history. That’s somewhere that I love to write my own books in, and I love reading other books. But here, you know, we have a story about about alienation and about love and about culture. And I’m so excited there’s more to come.
‘King of Scars,’ by Leigh Bardugo
Man, this whole series — Leigh Bardugo is just one of the great fantasy writers, not just of our time, but of all time. And in this book, you know, we have complex foreign policy stuff and peacemaking and not peacemaking. We also have monsters and demons and gods and creatures — I just can’t wait for people to read it.
On whether there are broader themes in the YA books coming out this year
I think we’re all trying to deal with what this world is looking like right now and what it’s going to look like next. As Arundhati Roy said, a pandemic is a portal.
On his own series, the Shadowshaper Cypher
Sierra Santiago is a 16 year old girl in Brooklyn who loves painting murals, and she finds out that she’s part of a family legacy that was denied to her, of magic workers called shadowshapers, who can bring art to life by putting spirit into them. So then she has to fight off evil Columbia anthropologists, help her friends survive, and really step into what that legacy means, to be a part of this new magical world.
This story was edited for radio by Isabella Gomez and adapted for the Web by Petra Mayer