A Phoenix First Must Burn: Sixteen Stories of Black Girl Magic, Resistance and Hope edited by Patrice Caldwell. Viking, 9781984835659, 2020
Rating: 1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 5
What did you like about the book? This is a solid collection of short stories, most by YA authors who have placed black girls at the center of their world building. Although libraries have been lucky to have a lot of top drawer YA girl fantasy novels recently, this is the first short story collection I’ve seen. Most of the stories are fantasy, although the opening one (“When Life Hands You a Fruit Bomb”) is SF/time travel and one of my favorites. Several stories address enslavement and rebellion and many incorporate African-American or Afro-Carribean folklore elements. Some stories tackle romantic relationships, including LGBTQ love: in “When Abigail Fields Recalls Her First Death and, Subsequently, Her Best Life” by Rebecca Roanhorse, Abigail chooses revenge over love in the Old West, but after murdering her enemy, sets off to reunite with her girlfriend, Mo. In “The Actress”, contributed by Caldwell, a TV star in a supernatural teen series discovers she’s actually a witch and the guy she likes (her dreamy co-star) has powers of his own. Overall, the quality of the stories was high and there was a lot of variety in the fantasy elements, which kept me eager to read the next one.
Anything you didn’t like about it? No. I do wish there had been a few more science fiction stories (a YA SF entry by M.K. Jemisin, please!), but that’s just me.
To whom would you recommend this book? So many SF and fantasy series nowadays are hefty, multi-volume sets. This book would be a nice alternative to offer readers who are put off by that. It’s a unique and high quality effort.
Who should buy this book? High school and public libraries
Where would you shelve it? YA
Should we (librarians/readers) put this on the top of our “to read” piles? Yes
Reviewer: Susan Harari, Keefe Library, Boston Latin School, Boston, MA
Date of review: May 14, 2020