cover image Salt the Water

Salt the Water

Candice Iloh. Dutton, $18.99 (288p) ISBN 978-0-593-529317

Black nonbinary 17-year-old Cerulean Gene is fed up with the rigid rules and expectations of public high school (“i’m stuck in stiff-ass classrooms... staring down out-of-touch white men/ who don’t really care if i learn”). After a dispute with a teacher escalates, Cerulean drops out of school. Cerulean; their partner, Zaria; and friends Irvin and Jai—the self-named “Bronx babies,” all of whom are nonbinary—have been saving money to live a life off the grid, where they won’t be held to society’s expectations. Cerulean’s parents’ unwavering support buoys them along on their journey to becoming their most authentic self. But after a serious accident jeopardizes their family’s livelihood, Cerulean must decide if what they want out of life is still possible. Fluid verse by Iloh (Break This House) is driven by Cerulean’s refreshing and optimistic dreams of creating their own world (“last night i had a dream... in the dream i was in an open field surrounded/ by all these flowers”); their introspective first-person perspective, paired with an open-ended resolution, offers myriad avenues for rumination on personal autonomy and self-expression. Ages 14–up. Agent: Patricia Nelson, Marsal Lyon Literary. (Oct.)