Bitter

Akwaeke Emezi. Knopf, $17.99 (272p) ISBN 978-0-593-30903-2

In this companion to National Book Award finalist Pet, Emezi introduces Bitter, a Black 17-year-old who attends private boarding art school Eucalyptus in the middle of Lucille, a city that’s on the brink of youth-led political change. Surrounded on every side by escalating violence (“Everyone knew someone else who had died from something they didn’t have to die from”) and protests, Bitter “thought it was ridiculous that adults wanted young people to be the ones saving the world,” and stays within Eucalyptus’s walls, safe inside the protective bubble of her art. There, she interacts with Miss Virtue, who runs the school; her friend Blessing, who keeps Bitter’s hair cut short; and the temporarily animate creatures Bitter creates from her own blood-streaked drawings. When anti-protest brutality results in a life-changing injury for one of her friends, Bitter creates her most fearsome creature yet to seek revenge. Emezi peoples this timely, urgently told first-person story with vivacious queer characters of color who have the agency to define the future for themselves and their city. Simultaneously brave, conscientious, and fearful, Bitter is all the more memorable for her complexity as Emezi illustrates in this steadfast volume the discipline of hope—like art, something to be worked at and practiced again and again. Ages 12–up. Agent: Jackie Ko, The Wylie Agency. (Feb.)