Kids Bookseller Natasha shares her love for A Phoenix First Must Burn, which you can order online thru bookpeople.com. We ship worldwide and have curbside pickup available, too!
I’ll preface this by saying I usually do not read short story collections. I love long epic fantasies over short snippets. However, I truly believe every person who loves fantasy (and even people who don’t) should read A Phoenix First Must Burn, edited by Patrice Caldwell. I am not exaggerating when I say it is an incredible work of art that should set the stage for a Black fantasy revolution in YA. A Phoenix First Must Burn is pure Black girl magic. Every story is wholly unique and beautiful. All sixteen stories showcase strength, community, tradition, romance, and, most importantly of all, magic.
Recently, I have been more intentional about reading fantasy by people of color. The world-building is exciting and new, and the legends are things I never could have imagined. I have always loved fantasy, especially young adult, and I am excited about the diversity showing up in my favorite genre, demanding a change and spreading into all other genres in publishing. A Phoenix First Must Burn does an incredible job of introducing readers to how special, and necessary, diversity in publishing is. The authors in this collection put their hearts and souls into every word, and it shows. In “Gilded” Elizabeth Acevedo tells a story of revolution brewing on a slavers island long ago, while Dhonielle Clayton tells of the story of a girl learning to protect her heart in “Hearts Turned to Ash,” and Ibi Zoboi imagines a world where Black girls have the power to shed their skin and kiss the sun in her story, “Kiss the Sun.” Each story is filled to the brim with magic.
Some of my favorite stories in this collection are from a mix of authors I already love and authors that I can’t wait to read more of. L.L McKinney writes, in “The Goddess Provides,” the story of a princess who has renounced religion witnessing the deaths of her family members in a coup and escaping, only to be caught by the usurper. She must find the strength within her to save her kingdom and herself. In “The Witch’s Skin,” Karen Strong tells the tale of a girl on the hunt for a Boo Hag, an evil witch who shape-shifts into any form she pleases and steals the souls of men. In the first story, Amerie’s “When Life Hands You A Lemon Fruitbomb,” an alien race takes over the Earth, and the girls must protect our planet — only, there is more to these aliens than meets the eye.
Each and every story in this collection is a story worth reading, and each story left me wanting more. I truly hope you check out A Phoenix First Must Burn and discover some favorite stories of your own — and then go read more novels and collections exploring Black girl magic. Stories like Dread Nation by Justina Ireland, A Song of Wraiths and Ruin by Roseanne A. Brown, A River of Royal Bloodby Amanda Joy, or Kingdom of Souls by Rena Barron.
-Natasha F., BookKids Bookseller