We spotlight six notable children’s and YA debuts this season.
Tomi Adeyemi’s first exposure to the Orïsha—deities belonging to the Yoruban people of southwest Nigeria—came courtesy of a museum gift shop in Brazil. “It was life-changing,” Adeyemi recalls. “And it was so affirming to see my blackness celebrated in such a sacred and powerful way.” Later developing the idea for Children of Blood and Bone, a Black Lives Matter-inspired fantasy set in the world of the Orïsha, Adeyemi buckled down and entered Pitch Wars. Her persistence paid off, earning her representation and, subsequently, a seven-figure preempt for her first novel.
Jessica Love created much of her debut, Julián Is a Mermaid, between performing in two New York plays. The book, which tells the story of a boy who finds his people among the participants of the Coney Island Mermaid Parade, floated into her mind about six years ago. A boyfriend at the time had a family member who had recently come out as trans, and she was also watching “a lot” of RuPaul’s Drag Race. “I was thinking about the way creativity and beauty can be used as a way to fashion your identity,” she says.
As founding editor of the Barnes & Noble Teen Blog, Melissa Albert knows her way around the myriad varieties of YA literature. So when she decided to write her own novel, she chose a slice of the YA pie so narrow she had to create her own label for it: Fairy Tale Noir. Albert says of her debut, The Hazel Wood, “I wanted to write something dark, something sort of inspired by Raymond Chandler, to employ that hardboiled voice to tell a fairy tale.”
Anat Deracine has always been a writer. When she was 12, a London press released a book of her poems, and as an adult, she published short fiction and essays in literary journals. When she realized she wanted to write novels, however, she chose a pen name, which felt freeing to her. Growing up in Saudi Arabia, Deracine wore a burka and lived with the restrictions her female characters face in Driving by Starlight.
One day, while still a student at the Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore, Elizabeth Lilly found herself in the cafeteria with a cup of water and a straw “three times the height of the cup.” The mismatch of sizes inspired her: she doodled a giraffe making a hairpin turn with its neck in order to sip its drink. Encouraged by her teacher, Lilly developed the concept for what would become her debut picture book, Geraldine, about a giraffe who is having a lot of trouble, literally, fitting in.
Joy McCullough first learned of Artemisia Gentileschi, a Baroque painter who weathered an intense legal trial against her rapist, when she was a few years out of college, as a passing mention in Margaret Atwood’s The Robber Bride. After further research, she says, “I came to appreciate her art, but it was really her story—and that it’s the same story we keep telling—that pulled me in.” McCullough explores the artist’s experiences in her first published novel, Blood Water Paint.