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Five questions for Tomi Adeyemi

Tomi Adeyemi. Photo: Elena Seibert.

Tomi Adeyemi‘s high-octane fantasy Children of Blood and Bone (Holt, 14 years and up) begins with a bang (and, like much classic fantasy, with a map) and ends with a cliffhanger. In between, readers follow three narrators with shifting loyalties and motivations as they attempt to save, resurrect, harness, and/or obliterate the magic that once coursed through the kingdom of Orïsha.

1. First, huge congratulations on being #1 on the New York Times YA Hardcover Bestseller list! What do you think it says that a five-hundred-plus page, series-starting, “YA West African fantasy” by a Nigerian American woman debut author is first place on that list?

TA: Thank you! I don’t think I fully believe it, because whenever people try to get me to say it out loud, my throat kind of closes up! But I am extremely proud of this story, and to see it at the top of the list for so long has been incredible. When I think about what that says, I think about the stories that are right up there with Children of Blood and Bone. My book was #1 on the New York Times bestseller list while Black Panther was #1 at the box office, and both stories are reaching a wide audience while bringing people of all backgrounds together in a celebration of African culture.

For me, seeing CBB at #1 tells me to keep having hope — that despite the current climate, things are changing for the better. Last year when I saw The Hate U Give at #1, I took solace in the fact that thousands of people a week were reading Angie Thomas’s incredible story and learning not only to empathize with the black experience, but to mobilize against issues like police brutality. Through all the disturbing headlines and hashtags, THUG was a light for me. Now, seeing CBB and THUG right next to each other on the bestseller list makes me feel like we are not only speaking out against the evils in our world, but making an impact on the children who will be our future.

2. Your setting is so vividly described. How much is real and how much imagined?

TA: Honestly, it’s ten percent real and ninety percent imagined! I am an extremely visual writer. I have a CBB Pinterest board of over nine hundred pictures, and I like to pull images from everywhere when I’m writing. I use real settings and real places as my foundation, and then I “paint” over them with my imagination to create the world.

3. Was it most difficult to write from any of the protagonists’ perspectives? (I for one do not forgive Inan, though you make me understand his motivations.)

TA: It was most difficult for me to write from Amari’s perspective. Zélie came to me fully formed, and Inan was inspired by some of my favorite characters from history, so both of them had a solid foundation. At first Amari was just a part of Zélie’s story, someone to narrate the moments of the book that Zelie couldn’t. My brilliant editor Tiffany Liao really helped me find Amari’s story through revisions, which in turn helped me discover Amari’s amazing voice.

4. How could you leave us with that ending?!

TA: *insert evil Elmo fire gif*

This is publishing’s fault! When I started writing CBB, I was a Ravenclaw, and now I’m a cold-blooded Slytherin. I wanted to complete the epic adventure of Book One, but I had to give a cruel taste of what readers will get in Book Two!

5. Your author’s note is an impassioned call to action for readers. How have they responded?

TA: The readers have been incredible. Several have reached out through Twitter and Instagram to share their reactions with me. A lot of black readers are grateful to have someone telling this story and portraying these difficult emotional realities in such a raw and honest way, and I understand that because I feel the same gratitude for so many incredible black creators in all forms of storytelling who are doing the same thing.

But non-black readers have been just as incredible to hear from, because I wrote this story to explain those complicated truths and realities in a way everyone could understand. When people tell me Zélie’s fear hits home for them or a certain scene really gets them in the gut, I know I’ve achieved what I set out to do. I want everyone to enjoy this adventure, but I also want them to learn from it. So far, I think that’s being accomplished!

From the April 2018 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.

Elissa Gershowitz About Elissa Gershowitz

Elissa Gershowitz is executive editor of The Horn Book, Inc. She holds an MA from the Center for the Study of Children's Literature at Simmons College and a BA from Oberlin College.

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