Here’s the thing: I was super-excited to come up with a fun list of YA reads inspired by African mythology. Until I started trying to find some. Honestly, the lack of books delving into these rich cultures and histories is not just astounding, it’s mournful. There are some awesome writers exploring African myth in the adult fiction world, like Tananarive Due. But aside from the brilliant Nnedi Okorafor-Mbachu (who wrote three of the five picks here), there’s hardly anything by writers of color out there in the YA world (and please, do leave suggestions if I’ve missed some—I would love to check them out). That said, here are a few recent reads—mostly delving into Egyptian myth—that hit the spot.
Akata Witch, by Nnedi Okorafor
Sunny is a misfit wherever she goes. American-born but living in Nigeria, where her family is from, she’s an albino, which has the other kids shouting accusations that she’s a witch. When she starts having visions of an impending nuclear crisis, classmates Orlu, Chichi and Sasha—witches themselves—take her into their circle and hatch a plan to save the world. Exploring modern-day Nigeria and ancient mythology, Akata Witch also dives deep into ideas about home and the other. Big ideas for a middle grade worth reading.
A Chaos of Stars, by Kiersten White
The author of the best-selling Paranormalcy series takes on Egyptian myth in Stars, which centers on Isadora, the very human daughter of Egyptian gods Isis and Osiris. At 16, she’s ready for freedom, and finds it in a move to San Diego, where she embraces her design dreams and falls for a Greek boy named Ry. Still, a very real danger lurks just beneath the surface, and the suffocation of thousands of years of family lore (and immortal parents) weighs heavily.
Zahrah The Windseeker, by Nnedi Okorafor-Mbachu
As in Akata Witch, the lead here, Zahrah, stands out. She was born with vines growing in her hair, and in the Ooni Kingdom, that means she has special powers. But she doesn’t feel special…until she begins to levitate. When her best friend, Dari, lays on his deathbed after a war snake bite, Zahrah must decide if she’s brave enough to embrace her powers and her path in order to save her friend.
Reawakened, by Colleen Houck
Everygirl Lily gets a real surprise one morning at the Metropolitan Museum of Art: thousand-year-old sun Prince Amon, now a mummy, has awoken—and Lily is charged with helping him get back to Eygpt, where he must raise his brothers and defeat shape-shifter Seth before he can destroy the world. Sharing the breezy casualness of Houck’s bestselling Tiger’s Curse series, this is a lighthearted introduction to ancient Egyptian lore.
The Shadow Speaker, Nnedi Okorafor-Mbachu
The year is 2070, and the setting is a nuclear-decimated Niger, West Africa. Mau girl Ejii, 14, struggles with modernity’s confounding mix of magic and technology, all while trying to get a grasp on her own special powers—she’s a mind-reader, and it could get her into big trouble. Does she have it in her to do what she must to save herself…and the Earth? Her journey takes her across the Sahara with Red Queen Jaa, presenting a startling and spot-on mix of sci-fi future and ancient lore.